God bless the Aztecs who discovered Cacao. Surprisingly, they didn’t want to eat it. They knew how to grind up the beans, boil them to a froth with water and sweeten the drink with vanilla and honey. So why didn’t the Aztecs drink this yummy stuff? Because Cacao beans were too precious and for an Aztec drinking a cup of chocolate was a sheer waste of money. Of course rich people liked to show off by drinking chocolate, they could afford it after all! At least now we have documented proof that mankind has been showing off since 1300 A.D. And thank god that you can now buy a tall glass of foamy chocolate drink at Theobroma (which is chilled melted chocolate btw), scrape the chocolate off from the bottom with your tongue sticking out and nobody will accuse you of being rich, although they might think you forgot to grow up.
I don’t have a sweet tooth, I have sweet teeth, all 32 of them. I have to end my meals on a sweet note. I like my mishtees, mousse, tarts, tiramisu and marzipans but I what I can’t absolutely live without is chocolates. In fact I’ve had a lifelong affair with them and why not, they have been my best friends through thick and thin, through my highs and lows.
Picture this scenario....You’ve had a crappy day, you have tired everybody out with your cribathon, you are stressed and feeling low. All you have to do is open the refrigerator, take out that box of pralines. Your brows are knit in concentration trying to decide between Irish cream and blueberry, you pick up one up, it feels slightly moist, ready to melt any minute. You quickly pop into your mouth, close your eyes and let the familiar chocolatey aroma envelop you with its warmth. Each taste bud of yours comes to life wanting to soak in its silky smoothness, its bitter sweet taste. You smile a lazy smile, your day just got better.
I grew up on Cadbury’s and it tasted far better back then - now it’s waxy, tastes less chocolatey and looks as if it’s on a perpetual diet (it keeps shrinking every few months). During my kiddie days, my favourite used to be Double Decker. It was this thick bar with layers of crispy cereals and nougatine wrapped in chocolate. One bite into the caramel nougat layer and I would be transported to the world of enchanted woods, elves and magical castles, my mind conjuring up childish fantasies. A book with my favourite bar of chocolate used to be my idea of Utopia.
In the 80’s, when liberalization was still a dream, all we had access to was Russian chocolates and they were awful. Travelling to foreign locales was still considered a luxury and each box of Swiss pralines was treated with awe and respect. The truffles looked like jewels, each with a mysterious filling, beckoning mischievously from their plastic thrones. I can still vividly recall my first bar of Hazelnut chocolate, that someone had got from a trip abroad. The nuts seemed so huge, crisped to perfection and smothered with chocolate so creamy, one bite of it and the world seemed to move in slow-motion.
With age, my taste has become sophisticated (read pricey), I now prefer Lindt to Cadbury and like it bitter. Double Decker doesn’t sell in India anymore and its poor cousin 5 star makes me queasy. Yet I remain a slave to my cocoa cravings. On our last trip to Belgium, the husband and I went berserk at the sight of so many chocolate boutiques. And the extreme distress we experienced while making our selections from the mind boggling variety of pralines. The shop assistants just gave up on us. The Belgians love their chocolate so much that they don’t stop at pralines - chocolate massage cream, chocolate lipstick, x rated body parts, you name it they have it. Imagination and decadence it seems, know no bounds. Ironically Godiva, Belgium’s most famous export is not exactly sought after by the locals (I find it too cloyingly sweet for my taste).
The other night while watching the new Cadbury’s silk ad on TV, I couldn’t help but smile at the image of a grown up man licking the melted chocolate off the wrapper, oblivious to the world around him. But that’s what this cocoa concoction does to most of us, doesn’t it? It takes us a step closer to the child in us, to a long lost childhood when the world seemed so perfect and dreams that never seemed impossible.