Travel with a different perspective

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Chocolate Festival 比利時嘉年华

Bruges, Belgium: Where the chocolate is even better than they say

Let me just start off by saying that I was never really a huge chocolate person. I like chocolate, don’t get me wrong, but I was never one to rave over a simple piece of chocolate, and when it comes down to a choice between chocolate or vanilla ice cream, I almost always choose vanilla. Of course there are chocolate bars I like and I will eat, but pure chocolate was never really my thing.

Well when I arrived in Belgium (namely Bruges), it wasn’t long before I was greeted by a slew of chocolate shops. I had heard about the quality of Belgian chocolate, but I certainly wasn’t as prepared for the quantity of chocolatiers I would encounter in a town with a 30 minute radius from end to end. How would I know which one was the best? They were all swarming with people so it was hard to differentiate one from another. All I knew was that I would have to buy some chocolate somewhere.
We happened upon a shop called “The Chocolaterie” in the Burg area of Bruges, a relatively small store crowded with all things chocolate (and marzipan) and lots and lots of people. The shop was divided into two very distinct sections: one for everyday chocolate and one for those made with “finer ingredients.”
While we were there, the chocolatier cut up samples of their chocolate hearts filled with a light ganache of chocolate. All I had was a sliver, a tiny sliver…and I knew instantly that it was the best chocolate I had ever tasted. Back in America, I have yet to experience a chocolate that would phase me as much as this did.

Now I’m no snob (or so I like to believe), but now I was a convert so I opted to buy some from the finer ingredients section (pictured above) completely clueless as to what made the difference. But with a selection of chocolates made with cayenne pepper, chilies, cinnamon, and more, I was definitely intrigued.
The woman was sort of adamant about picking chocolates for me. All she asked was my preference between dark and milk chocolate and then started throwing things in my bag. I don’t know if it’s because I was a tourist or if she does that for everyone but it was all happening so fast. Before I knew it, I had a 10-piece bag full of vanilla, cayenne pepper, green tea, cinnamon, cardamom, hazelnut and other flavors I can’t even recall. The problem was I had no idea which was which.
She handed me the bag and very assertively stated:
“This is not chocolate to eat, it’s chocolate to enjoy.”
I sort of smirked and thought to myself “what is that supposed to mean?” But on I went, 4.25 euro poorer, and saved my chocolate for later.
It wasn’t until I got back to Amsterdam the next day that I had THE BEST piece of chocolate I’ve ever had in my life. I thought the heart was good, but this, THIS topped it all.
It was the first piece I pulled out of the bag. I had no idea what flavor it was but after one bite, I could tell it was green tea. The outside was firm and the inside was soft with bold flavor. It was decorated with a few crystals of salt that melded perfectly with its insides. For about a minute, I sat on the floor realizing exactly what that woman meant.
I haven’t yet finished the bag, because I’m trying to let it all last. I like to share it with others and see what they think. But as of right now, I’m halfway through and the green tea is still by far my favorite.
On another note, I want to thank you readers for all your kind wishes and interest about my trip! It’s really nice to read all your comments and know that you’re interested in hearing about it. So thank you! More to come.

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