Do you like chocolate? Who doesn’t, right?
Chocolate is a cliché in the West. It is for losers, really. Think about it. Think about Legally Blonde, Pretty Woman and every other chick flick in which the chick has been dumped. What does she grab? A big box of chocolate truffles. Chocolate is used in Hollywood movies to depict everything from heartbreak to depression to loss. As metaphors go, it is about as tired as two flowers arching towards each other to show Madhubala falling in love with Dilip Kumar.
I was never a chocolate fan, probably because with the exception of a really good cognac-soaked tiramisu, I am not a dessert person. I’d rather have a cappuccino. So when all my girlfriends crooned about “cchhoclet”, I couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about.Until recently. What changed it for me was dark, slightly bitter chocolate.It is about the only kind of chocolate that I can stand.
It was the Mayans, of course, who discovered chocolate. They actually thought it was healthy, a food from the Gods. This was before the time when anything healthy had to taste bad. And sure enough, in the late 1980s, we discovered a whole slew of things that was bad about chocolate: too much sugar, too many calories, chocolate high, bad for the teeth. These and a whole host of other epithets accompanied chocolate, which meant that it had finally arrived.It was so bad; no wonder it tasted good.
Many countries nowadays grow and export chocolate. Vahlrona chocolate is popular among pastry chefs because of the famous dessert that bears its name: Vahlrona chocolate cake with a melted chocolate interior. The first time I had this now-ubiquitous dessert was at a restaurant called Isabella’s in New York (at the corner of 79th and Columbus for those who care).I put my fork in to cut the chocolate cake only to find that it leaked.I thought that something was wrong until the suave French captain informed me that my ‘leaking’ cake was just as it should be.
The French, of course, do chocolate soufflés and we do chocolate burfis. I dislike both. To me, a chocolate burfi is as oxymoronic as George Bush’s IQ. As for milk chocolate, the kind that Nestle peddles—I think it is for kids and dentured uncles. No self-respecting chocoholic would go gaga over this goo-goo. Chocolate truffles are dangerous because they have fillings ranging from the terrible mint to the sublime marzipan. Marzipan is a confection made of ground semi-bitter almonds with sugar and, occasionally, a dash of rose water. Italy makes a tonne of marzipan nowadays, but the paste actually originated in Persia. Most people love marzipan for its sweetness, but I like it for its touch of bitterness.Which brings me right back to dark, bitter chocolate.
Bitter chocolate, I predict, is the next big thing in chocolate. Even Hershey’s, that giant of chocolate mediocrity, has caught on. They have an arm called Cacao Reserve, dedicated primarily to dark chocolate. The difference between dark chocolate and the milk chocolate that seven-year-olds scarf down is simple: Milk chocolate has more sugar and less cacao (which is the bean from which chocolate is extracted). The more cacao there is, the less sweet your chocolate will be. Hershey’s Cacao Reserve has a slab called Sao Tome which is 70% cacao.It takes some getting used to. Stuff it into a child’s mouth and she will probably spit it out—not a bad thing. But once you develop a palate for cacao, most milk chocolate will taste like sludge. You can never go back to mass-produced chocolate again.
India happily has some artisanal chocolate makers who make chocolate just for the pleasure of it. Bangalore has Chocolate Junction, a tiny shop near Ulsoor Lake. I go there not because it is great chocolate—even their darkest chocolate is too sweet for me—but because it is a chocolate boutique. Delhi has Choko La, Shailesh Poddar’s Belgique and Sanjiv Obhrai’s Chocolate Boutique; Mumbai has Fantasie Chocolates.If there are any such chocolate boutiques in your town, I’d love to hear about them.
Shoba Narayan loves chocolate… as a spa-wrap. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org