It’s been a while since I’ve had chocolate and the bar of Beschle 64% with pistachios and salt that I purchased in Singapore was polished off weeks ago. I am in Hoi An, a picturesque but touristy town in central Vietnam which for hundreds of years served as a major port to Portuguese, Japanese and Chinese traders. Not surprisingly, the food here is delicious. As a former French colony, Vietnam also has many patisseries and one such place is Cargo, which I recon is one of the best in Hoi An. Darius and I go there to indulge our sweet tooth and judging by the gorgeous cakes on display behind the glass case, we will not be disappointed.
We order the two best looking(or biggest) items, the double chocolate cake and the passion fruit mousse cake. My Latte comes out first, and it arrives with a square of chocolate. I’m excited to see that it is a single origin chocolate from Vietnam. When I try it, I discover that it’s good, well balanced and fruity. It’s exciting to see locally made chocolate in a world dominated by Cadbury and Nestlé.
We try the cakes and they are delicious too! Now I want to meet the pastry chef who has the know how to put single origin chocolate on the menu and make excellent desserts. When I do the next day, the chef tells me that they use the same brand of chocolate in their desserts as the square I had, but the bean origin is different. On the web I find out that the brand, called Grand Place is a Belgium company that has subsidiaries in Vietnam and Japan. They mostly source beans from Africa but have recently begun making this single origin chocolate from Vietnam. I contact them to see if I could visit them in Ho Chi Minh since we are flying out from there. Really I want to do a tour of the plantations but unfortunately, we haven’t given ourselves enough time to go back to the Mekong Delta.
When I get to HCMC the following week, I meet with Yung, a nice salesman who tells me that Grand Place is the biggest chocolate company in Vietnam and supplies chocolate to much of Asia too. He gives me some samples to take home but seems a bit confused as to why I am there since I don’t want to buy chocolate. I am beginning to wonder that myself and when he tells me that they do tours of the plantation and factory for customers, I realize that’s where I really want to be.
It’s easy to lose focus when you are travelling. You think you have to see and do everything of interest and pretty soon you are as busy as you were at home. I have forgotten that by narrowing our focus on cacao, we also hone in on a very specific culture of farmers and the artisans, that could provide me with understanding that is more meaningful than what we might glimpse on the tourist trail.