Home » Posts tagged 'chocolate'

Tag Archives: chocolate

Sign Up To Our Very Tasty Newsletter

Loading

More To See

Visit Quito, Ecuador

A Great Latitude

The remarkable Galapagos Islands are undoubtedly Ecuador’s top tourist attraction and many trips to the islands start out from Quito. The city itself has plenty to offer the visitor. We were lucky enough to undertake a largely land-based Galapagos tour but gave ourselves a couple of days on the Ecuadorian mainland before and after this trip, predominantly to give ourselves some days in hand in order to make sure we could catch our connecting flights, but also because we wanted to explore the city and surrounding area. There are all sorts of day trips available in and around the capital when you visit Quito.

Visit Quito

Quito is the second highest capital city in the world, located virtually on the equator and at an altitude of 2850m above sea level. If you’ve not spent time at that altitude it is really important to take it easy, even climbing a flight of stairs can leave you a little breathless when you first arrive. Many hotels in South American countries offer coca tea which is supposed to help with the effects of altitude sickness, although if you do feel ill make sure you seek medical attention.

When you visit Quito, the Centro Histórico is a great place to stay. San Francisco de Quito was founded by Sebastián de Benalcázar in 1534 and the colonial architecture is considered to be so important that the city is designated a UNESCO world heritage site (along with Krakow in Poland). It also has some of the best bars and restaurants in the city. Our hotel had a good view over Santo Domingo Plaza, one of many colonial plazas.

Visit Quito

It is very pleasant just wandering through the city.

Basílica del Voto Nacional – Basilica of the National Vow, a Roman Catholic church, is located atop a hill. Apparently it is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas and is still officially unfinished. There is a local legend that when it is finally completed the end of the world will be nigh.

Visit Quito

La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, known locally as la Compañía, is a Jesuit church which was completed in 1765. Its interior is decorated with wood carvings, gilded plaster and gold leaf in an astonishingly ornate style.

The Plaza de Indepencia is a focal point with its expansive square.

There are lots of shops and restaurants in the area but, notably, just around the corner from the Plaza is a chocolate shop which offers the most amazing chocolate delicacies. To be fair, there are loads of chocolate shops offering amazing chocolate delicacies (Central and South American countries are quite rightly famous for their chocolate), but it was in this one that we discovered Pacari chocolate. The chocolate isn’t cheap but it’s the best quality we’ve ever tried. The company is really ethical as well; a fair trade organisation they support local farmers in Ecuador by paying a good wage and working with them directly. The chocolate is also 100% organic and absolutely stonkingly delicious.

We brought home a multitude of different chocolate bars: the ‘pure’ choc – at 60% cacao – but also some of the flavoured ones. Many are flavoured with fruits: passion fruit and cherry really captured the flavours of the fruit, lemon verbena’s zing was a lovely contrast with the smooth, silky chocolate. We had enjoyed corn in various guises throughout our trip so toasted corn kernels in the chocolate added a satisfying crunch and the corn flavour also came through very well. Of course we had to try the chilli chocolate. It’s surprisingly subtle – the first flavour you taste is that of dark chocolate then, after a few seconds comes a gentle warmth (definitely not the fiery heat of a chilli) that lingers on the palette long after the chocolate has gone.

It is possible to buy Pacari chocolate around the world (they also try to offset their carbon footprint) but we’ve found that it is significantly more expensive than in Quito (and it’s pretty expensive in Quito, but emphatically worth every cent), so if you do find yourself in Ecuador, we recommend stuffing every square centimetre of spare space in your luggage with the chocolate before you travel home.

Visit Quito – City Tour

There are lots of city tours available when you visit Quito and most hotels will be able to put you in touch with a company that can suit your budget, whether it’s a group tour or a private guide. Some of the guides are very flexible and can adapt a standard tour to suit your interests so it’s definitely worth asking what options are available.

The Equator is one of the most popular tourist attractions (after all, the word Ecuador means ‘equator’) and it’s difficult not get excited at being able to stand in both the northern and southern hemispheres at the same time. There are two sites, located a short drive of around 25km outside Quito. Amusingly, the official equator site at La Mitad del Mundo (the Middle of the World) isn’t quite on the equator itself, thanks to an error by a French expedition in 1736.

It seems it was the Incas who, several centuries earlier and without the use of GPS, managed to locate the correct location for the equator so we headed over to the Intiñan museum which is just a few minutes away from the incorrect official monument. The museum has an official equator line and also some exhibits showing traditional culture. You can also undertake various activities such as looking at the Coriolis Effect (whether waters swirls down a plughole clockwise, anti-clockwise or straight down depending on which hemisphere you are in – it won’t make a spot of difference), balancing an egg on a nail or walking along the equator with your eyes closed. It’s all ridiculous and hugely touristy but it’s enjoyable fun nevertheless.

Anyway, whether you are standing on the real equator or not, it’s great to take photos astride a line – whichever one it is.

We made a brief stop to view the Pululahua Crater. It’s a caldera (from an extinct volcano) although you can still see a couple of volcanic cones. The area has plenty of fertile soil so farming here is profitable. It’s possible to walk in the area – the caldera is about five km across – but we only really had time to enjoy the view.

Pululahua Crater Quito

Back in Quito, the Teleferico offers a cable car lift to the top of Cruz Loma which affords fantastic views across the city as well as ‘Volcanoes Avenue’, a splendid vista revealing fourteen peaks across the Andes… if the weather is co-operating. Otherwise it’s a nice ride up and down a mountain in a cable car! It’s located in Pichincha and the site also offers an amusement park, restaurants, a shopping centre and other activities, so there’s plenty to do if the views aren’t spectacular.

A slightly more unusual stop was a visit to the Fundación Guayasamín Museum, the house with an adjacent art gallery of local artist Oswaldo Guayasamín, widely considered to be one of Ecuador’s greatest artists. The house is located on a hill overlooking Quito in the Bellavista neighbourhood and has been left as he lived in it. It contains many artworks; his own as well as an impressive collection of pre-Columbian, colonial and modern art, and you can also see his studio. We were invited to watch a video about the artist so that we could learn about his life and works. The adjacent gallery, known as the Chapel of Man, has an exterior on the form of a massive cube with a conical dome atop. Inside it offers multiple levels in which to explore a range of artworks. Guayasamín’s art is big and bold and very much reflects Ecuadorian landscapes and culture. He was also particularly interested in the inequalities in society and many of his works are powerful – and moving – representations of injustice. Photography wasn’t allowed inside the gallery.

Visit Quito – Day Trips Further Out

There are loads of day trips to explore the area surrounding Quito. Again, your accommodation will likely be able to help you find and book a trip that suits your interests, even if it might be at quite short notice. (We arrived from the airport late in the afternoon and managed to organise a day trip for the following morning.) Many companies offer coach trips that can pick you up from your accommodation (and a whole bunch of other tourists up from their accommodation, so bear in mind that the first hour of the trip could well involve sitting on a coach collecting people – which was fine for us as we could doze for a bit to catch up with the jetlag). But the greater the number of people that join the excursion, the lower the cost, and it’s often nice to have company on a day trip as well. Full day trips usually include lunch at a local restaurant.

Quilotoa Crater Lake

This was a full day trip, primarily to see the crater lake, which is located some 180 km from Quito. The journey takes a couple of hours direct from Quito, so other activities were incorporated into the trip to break up the day.

First stop was a market where we could see local produce for sale…

…And then onto the lake itself. It’s a caldera caused by the collapse of the volcano when it erupted in 1280. The crater filled with water over the years and now forms a lake, some 3km in diameter. It is possible to walk around the rim on a trail (it’s about 7.5 km) but we didn’t have enough time for this, so there’s a pleasant half hour stroll to the lake itself. It’s worth remembering that you are at altitude so the hike back up to the rim may take longer if you have not yet acclimatised. Also bear in mind that the sun is strong, even on a cloudy day, so make sure you have sun protection. The caldera itself is beautiful.

We also stopped off at Tigua to visit a local family home.

And in the late afternoon, as we headed back into Quito to do the reverse of the hotel pickups, we just happened to pass by the Cotopaxi volcano at sunset so the driver stopped off to let us all have a photo stop. Well, with a view like this it would have been rude not to.

Cotopaxi volcano Quito

It’s also worth noting there are lots of trips and activities at Cotopaxi – from climbing up it to mountain biking down it (at vast speed) as well as horse riding and jeep tours. Local tour operators and hotels will be available to find something that suits.

Bellavista Cloud Forest

We had long wanted to visit a cloud forest and booked directly with the organisation. They arranged a pick-up from our hotel in the central district – very early in the morning – to take us and a group of other people on a drive to the cloud forest that took a couple of hours. After breakfast at the lodge we embarked on a guided walk. Unfortunately the best time to see the birds is around 6:30am – about the time of our Quito pickup. Some people stay overnight in order to be able to take the early morning walks in order to get a greater chance of viewing the birds. It’s also worth noting that we found the experience to be expensive. Still, the walk was lovely and the guide knowledgeable. These are actually colour photos but the forest was so wonderfully cloudy they have an evocative black and white feel to them.

It was also nice to be able to see gorgeously colourful and beautifully iridescent hummingbirds, and other birds, using the feeders that were located around the lodge, flitting, darting and hovering.

Even if the Galapagos are your primary reason for visiting Ecuador, there are loads of activities in the area when you visit Quito – whether wildlife, activity or cultural – and it is definitely worth incorporating these into your itinerary if you have time.

Related Posts You May Enjoy

Galapagos boobies
Visit the Galapagos
Hiking in El Chalten
Hiking in El Chalten, Patagonia
Visit the Atacama Desert Laguna Miñiques
Visit the Atacama Desert in Chile
Monteverde Costa Rica
Visit a chocolate plantation in Costa Rica
More posts from the Americas

Film Review: Chocolat (2000)

Films for foodies
Chocolat (2000) is a delightful story about families, food, human frailties and redemption.

Director : Lasse Hallström

Writers: Joanne Harris (novel)

Country: UK/US (Film is set in France)

Food Consultant: Walter Bienz  (chocolate expert)

Film Rating: 8/10

Foodie Rating: 8/10

Cocoa-based joy lies at the heart of Lasse Hallström’s romantic drama set in 1950’s France. First a word of warning. Note the lack of ‘e’ in the title. If you get Prachya Pinkaew’s 2008 film Chocolate you may well be in for a shock if you were expecting some sort of Milkybar huggy romance film. Instead you would see a remarkable, exciting and somewhat violent Thai martial-arts film (which is highly recommended if you like remarkable, exciting and somewhat violent Thai martial-arts films) rather than the rather more sedate environment of period piece Chocolat, a film about religion, society, families, romance and, of course, chocolate.

It’s 1959. Vianne Rocher (Juliette Binoche) and her daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol) arrive at a small village, seeking accommodation and business premises. They find a useful property which suits their purposes in a tranquil location in France. Vianne’s skill – indeed her destiny – lies with her ability to be an inventive and perceptive chocolatier who can accurately detect the particular desires of any potential customer. Furthermore, she is a compassionate and caring person who utilises her distinct culinary abilities to absolve people of social or psychological issues even if they were unaware of those problems themselves.

But the apparent idyll of the delightful location has some problems. Vianne arrives during Lent and the village’s dictatorial mayor Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina) has a strong interpretation of biblical edicts and insists on his parishioners steadfastly following the rules of fasting and avoiding the temptations of glorious gluttony. He even alters the parish priest’s sermons to dictate his own religious views. Vianne carries on regardless, determined by her destiny to aid the villagers with their personal problems through the medium of chocolate; these include family conflicts, a housewife being beaten by her drunken husband and her curmudgeonly and melancholy landlady, a grandmother denied access to her artistic grandson because she fell out with her daughter, a lady who subscribes to the mayor’s dominant beliefs. When a group of river Roma arrive at the outskirts of the village this creates further tensions particularly when Vianne forms a friendship with the anti-establishment but delightful guitar playing Roux (Johnny Depp). Naturally the authoritarian Comte de Reynaud sees this as a further plot to undermine his idealistic perceptions of virtue for the village and seeks to remove both the Roma and the chocolatier. But perhaps his own sins are to become apparent especially, it seems, when chocolate is involved.

There is so much to enjoy in the food depiction in the film from its creation to its final instigation. Vianne instigates her skills in multiple ways to accentuate her art and administer the correct form of chocolate for her many customers. So there’s chilli in the hot-chocolate concoction that has exceptional taste and a variety of aphrodisiac sweets, mood enhancers and delicately modelled confections that serve as an advert for her artistry as much as they emphasise the visual delights of her amazing products. Chocolate may be considered to be an indulgent food but here it is used to heal lost souls. There are a few moments of culinary horror amidst the joy of chocolate as we experience a scene of outrageous gorging – during Lent! – which forms part of the dénouement in the film’s relationship between mayor and chocolatier. And there is more trouble when in a moment of conflicting interests between mother and daughter concerning their respective futures when a valuable container of cacao is smashed, the dust powder scattered amidst the shattered pottery.

Johnny Depp return to confection as the chocolatier Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but Juliette Binoche’s Vianne provides gastronomic supremacy way ahead of Tim Burton’s fantasy chocolate intermixture.

A delightful story about families, food, human frailties and redemption, Chocolat is a joy for both foodies and hopeless romantics.

You can buy the film here or the book here in the UK or the film here and the book here in the US.

If you click the link and decide to make a purchase we will earn a small commission, at no cost to you, which helps towards running this site.

https://www.verytastyworld.com/category/reviews-of-tasty-books-foody-films-videos-podcasts-and-various-sources-and-sauces-on-the-web/food-on-film-and-foody-films/

Love at First Bite – Costa Rica Chocolate

We had always wondered what the point of mosquitoes actually was. As far as we could see all they do is bite people to suck their blood which causes much irritating itching and, worse, they spread horrible diseases. We might be particularly biased against the nasty little blighters as we seem to be strawberry flavoured to them and are guaranteed to attract any within our vicinity so that they can have a really good feast on us.

But it turns out that mosquitoes have a hugely important – and very beneficial – role in the ecosystem: they pollinate chocolate flowers. Yes, without mosquitoes the cacao trees of Costa Rica would not produce nearly enough fruit and hence there would be less chocolate in the world. And Costa Rica’s chocolate is fantastic quality.

Monteverde is one of Costa Rica’s most visited locations. The primary reason for visiting would be to experience the cloud forest nature reserve with its abundance of spectacular wildlife.

There are all sorts of other activities available, including adventure tours such as ziplining across spectacular scenery.

And, indeed, a number of foodie tours are also available. Don Juan’s plantation in Monteverde offers the opportunity to see chocolate being produced, as well as coffee and sugar cane.

Cacao trees produce a fruit which has the shape of a rugby ball but is a little smaller. It has a tough orange leathery rind.

You cut it open to reveal 8-12 beans inside, all covered in what appears to be a slimy membrane that is white with a pale greenish tinge. It is these almond shaped beans inside that will become chocolate.

First of all, the beans are removed from the pod and undergo a fermentation process for five days. By day five you can really smell the alcohol. This process helps develop the chocolate flavour.

The beans are then dried naturally by spreading them out in the sun for a couple of weeks before they are roasted.

The roasting gives a bitter note to the complex flavour which feels counterintuitive because we all know chocolate to be sweet. But the sweetness is, of course, due to the vast quantities of sugar added to our favourite childhood confections later on in the process.

Winnowing separates the beans from their shells leaving the cocoa nib which forms the basis of the chocolate. You can eat the nibs directly – they have a slightly bitter flavour.

The nibs are then ground into a paste. The result of this is chocolate mass (also called chocolate liquor) – a combination of cocoa solids and fat in roughly equal proportions, the friction of the grinding process brings out the cocoa butter. The cocoa mass can be processed further to make chocolate or squeezed out in a press to separate the two elements – powder and cocoa butter. In combination, the cocoa mass is what gives chocolate its special qualities – the flavour and aroma from the hundreds of chemical compounds and the amazing meltiness. Cocoa butter doesn’t impart flavour but it has a melting point that is at body temperature which means that chocolate remains solid at room temperature but starts melting in the most gloriously decadent way as soon as you put it in your mouth.

Of course there are lots of variations on the next stage of the processing. The nibs continue to be ground and then other ingredients can be added to produce chocolate. Of course, we are all familiar with the different types of chocolate and very likely have our childhood favourites.

Dark chocolate is made from sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa mass.

Milk chocolate is made from sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, milk or milk powder.

White chocolate is made from sugar, cocoa butter, milk or milk powder. Curiously, there is no cocoa mass in white chocolate.

There is a further process to making chocolate and that is tempering, which creates uniform crystals of the cocoa butter and makes the texture of the chocolate smoother and less prone to cracking. Tempering involves heating the chocolate to about 50⁰C in order to melt all the types of crystals that form, then agitate at 27⁰C then heat slightly to 31⁰C. This gives the chocolate its silky shininess.

We tried some of the products on offer. These treats were direct from the plantation and had had minimal processing.

Pure cocoa butter is all about the texture – soft and luscious, it is completely different to the white chocolate bars you grew up with as a kid.

And, of course, we couldn’t refuse a cup hot of chocolate made direct from grated cocoa mass. It is a rich, smooth, warming, slightly bitter drink – a very adult hot chocolate.

More posts from the Americas