A man and his chocolate
Whoever it was that said the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach must have been talking about chocolate.
This elite Mayan drink became comfort food for the masses but only after giving immeasurable pleasure to the upper classes for ages. This ‘food of the gods’ has long been a temptation, giving women ideas about making themselves even more tempting by bathing in chocolate, for example.
Mayan society is where it all began. In truth, for millennia, chocolate has been the aphrodisiac of choice in almost every organised society.
Nearly 5,000 years ago on the Pacific coast of Latin America and during the same period on the Gulf Coast, the other side of Mexico, men were sipping chocolate liqueur served to them by women in cups specially made for this purpose.
The effects were such that by the 16th century, Montezuma became the talk of the Aztecs: he knocked back 50 gold cups of chocolate before visiting one of his favourite mistresses.
His undeclared challenger, 17th century Casanova, thought he had found the secret to becoming the world’s greatest lover by eating 50 oysters a day, but that’s because he hadn’t discovered chocolate. And why not? Because those Spaniards and their entourages hid the evidence of enlightenment from him …and from every man who was similarly inclined.
Conquistador Hernán Cortes hinted to Emperor Charles V that he was about to receive something amazing. Cortes then arrived on a boatload of cocoa beans. Ever clever, he also brought equipment for preparing the beans to be made into a drink that later also became something edible.
Cortes, whose mission was to bring Montezuma down, carefully monitored every move of the Aztec chief. It had not escaped his notice that before each of the chief’s trysts, the ground was scattered with empty gold cups that once held chocolate.
“Aha,” (or words to that effect) thought he, the chocolate must make it possible for Montezuma to spend so much time in ladies’ tents. He whispered his conclusions to Charles V and they agreed that no one else should know. Chocolate would be their secret weapon. For more than 100 years, the gossipy Spanish court kept the secret.
They found a nearby agricultural part of Africa where bushes and trees with cocoa beans began to flourish and to be harvested.
At the court, plans were underway for a royal wedding. A boat full of brilliant native chocolate specialists, captured from various parts of Mexico, were brought to the court of Charles V to prepare the chocolate piece de resistance for the dinner of the royal wedding.
What a night it was! It was indescribable in so many ways that the servants were shocked into silence. And that silence held for almost a hundred years until some knave let slip to a member of the French Court of Louis XIII where, until that time, they had bragged about being the greatest lovers of Europe.
Now they knew they had been deposed without a clue. So upset were some men that they jumped into boats and started rowing like mad trying to reach Mexico first and re-establish their reputations. Machismo honour was at stake. Their very manhood was being called into question.
One day, while visiting London, a French royal stopped at a shop to have a coffee and found cocoa on the menu. Whispering his order to the waiter, he wriggled in anticipation. Could it be?
It was. The Brits never thought it was a big deal and added it to their repertoire of hot drinks. They’d been growing cocoa beans on plantations in India and other parts of their empire for years and the natives didn’t drink the stuff.
The French and Spanish royals conferred and agreed; something had to be done. Discussions went on for so long that it never occurred to these arrogant Europeans that men of other cultures might, on their own, come up with a new approach.
And who did? No surprise, the Chinese. They proposed the pairing of chocolates and beer! Beer? With stuffed chocolates? Surely a losing combination.
Not according to a British blogger, however, who writes: “When pairing chocolate and beer, rich malty flavours are your friend… when you and your sweetheart sit down to savour a few chocolate truffles, consider pouring a fruity Belgian sour, a malty doppelbock, or maybe a barrel-aged imperial stout.”
But he came to this epiphany, only after being introduced to such pairings by an Asian aficionado on a field trip. Encouraged, he set out on his own to find the Kiuchi Brewery’s Hitachino Nest Real Ginger Brew, a malty beer with a twist: “It has a burst of fresh ginger, which makes it a great match for ginger-filled chocolates,” he announced.
The point is in fact “how well these various beverages complement filled chocolates, bringing out the best flavours in each. And isn’t bringing out the best in each other what romance is all about?”
Romance and love, one might add. At least that was the line of thinking in Japan.
Japan’s Lotte Company, founded in 1948, had a somewhat different view of romance in that they – the company itself – wanted to be loved. ‘Lotte’ is the nickname of Charlotte, the heroine of the novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther. This name is used to represent the company’s yearning to be loved by everyone, truly a worthy goal for Valentine’s Day.
In this spirit, in January 2009, they announced a new pairing, Chocolate Ramen. They named their dish Ghana Miso. While the definition of the name is a mystery, their approach and presentation actually makes sense if you consider that in Japan women give men chocolate on Valentine’s Day and more men probably prefer ramen to chocolate.
But chocolate was taking on worldwide significance as the food of love, so it had to be part of this slurpy one-dish meal. It is inconsequential that chocolate only factors into the garnish, used when cooking the ground pork that tops the otherwise ordinary miso-tonkatsu soup.
Like these vaguely sexed-up boxes of instant hayashi rice and curry containing ordinary chocolates, chocolates posing as popular food items have been popping up for the past few years. Consumer demand has had more to do with appearances than flavour.
But just as the brewers were using Valentine’s Day to bring out the best in young couples, so the Ramen makers were appealing to the loving notions of those who are slightly older and more comfortable slurping their soup.
In Seattle, Washington, a company named Komforte Chockolates came up with a blend of comfort foods intermingling the ultimate comfort food, chocolate. The company uses a blend of both dark and milk chocolates to prepare a smooth base for its novelty chocolate bars like the crunchy, curly Ramen Noodle Bar.
To enliven this eating experience, there are two other surprising ‘comfort food’ flavours added to delight the person who has tasted everything. Instead of breakfast there is the French Toast Chocolate Bar, or for a snack try the Lime and Tortilla Chip Chocolate.
Not only does the Komforte Seattle Chocolate Company make tasty bars and truffles but its heart is also dedicated to community. They give their hearts to supporting organisations based in the Pacific Northwest that advocate on behalf of women, children and cancer research.
Men in Malta – Literature