Fatal attraction

Come and get me, unwrap and eat me, vintage chocolate bars always glint and wink at me, while I muster all my will power and walk away. I then remember the smooth melting sensation in my mouth and just crumble and give in to this seductive temptation. Slipping a piece between my tongue and palate, I savour its luscious texture, while the soft aromas gently massage my senses.

My love affair with chocolate probably started in Zanzibar in the early 1960’s. Just 25 km off the coast of Dar es Saalam, we ferried across to this tiny island in the Indian Ocean to holiday with my parent’s friend, José Fernandez and his family. José had a small plantation on the outskirts of the Jozani forest and grew cloves, cinnamon, nutmegs, pepper and cacao. We woke up early to see the Zanzibar Red Colobus monkeys as they are early feeders and spotted a few of these in the trees. They just stared back at us with their black faces fringed with spiky white hair and magnificent coats of red and black and a near white underbelly.

José took us around the plantation and the very first time I saw a cacao tree laden with fruit was through that weak, early morning sunshine. The light just filtered through its large oblong leaves and illuminated the big furrowed pods delicately textured with vibrant colours. I suppose to a five-year old it was just magical and this memory has stayed with me all these years.

The criollo variety of cacao photographed by Thierry Castel in Venezuela and is very much like the cacao I remember seeing in Zanzibar.

Since it was the first time we saw cacao trees let alone those laden with fruit, we were curious to see what was inside the pod. José very kindly cut open a nearly ripe pod and inside it was this gooey satiny white flesh enclosing the seeds . We sucked at this flesh and spat out the seeds, little realising that these seeds after fermenting, drying and roasting could be ground-up to make chocolate. I liked the taste, sweet and tangy, with a hint of coconut, pineapple and orange or is it mangosteen or guanábana? Even to this day I find it difficult to describe the taste.

Sweet and tangy – photographed by Sam Bridgewater in Toledo in Belize of a ripe cacao pod split open to show the thick pod wall and arrangement of seeds.