Belgium: Chocolate in Bruges

Belgium is known for its chocolate, but this decadent treat couldn’t be made without importing the main ingredient from countries around the equator, such as Mexico or Guatemala: Theobroma cacao (Food of gods).  It is said that money doesn’t grow on trees, but cacao beans grow on trees, and in these countries, cacao beans were so valuable they were used as currency.  In Mexico, you could buy a rabbit for 10 cacao beans and a slave for 100 cacao beans.  It is said that King Moctezuma was so rich he owned 960 million cacao beans.

Once a pod is removed from a cacao tree, it is opened, and the white pulp is removed.  Inside that pulp is found cacao beans.  They are fermented.  Then they are dried, cleaned, and roasted.  Then the shells are removed and the nibs inside are ground into a paste.  In the Aztec and Mayan culture, this was made into a spicy, frothy drinks.  When the Spanish settled in Mexico and discovered this amazing drink, Spanish women would have their servants bring them so many drinks during mass that it was deemed distracting by the bishop and banned.  The people couldn’t have that, so they killed the bishop — by poisoning his chocolate drink!

In 1528, the Spanish brought the ingredients and the recipe to Spain.  It made it to France by 1615 and England by 1657.  By 1727, England had over 2,000 choco pubs!  Its popularity didn’t make it cheap, however.  By the end of the 18th century, just one pound of chocolate cost five day’s wages!  Maybe that’s because it takes two cacao trees and whole year to produce one kilogram of chocolate!

In Belgium, chocolate sales were first licensed in 1712.  The mayor of Bruges, who often wrote about what he was eating, reported that he had bought a few pounds of chocolate for 182 sols.  A typical wage at that time was only 23 sols!   In the 1800s, chocolate was first made in solid form, and in 1912, Jean Neuhaus invented the praline (similar to a truffle) by filling it and boxing it for sale.

In Bruges, we toured ChocoStory, a museum centered around chocolate.  In several of the rooms, we got to dispense and taste white, milk, and dark chocolate drops as we learned the story.  Then we were given a chocolate bar to take home. THAT’S my kind of museum! P.S.  If chocolate comes from a tree, doesn’t that make it a fruit?  If so, we had a whole fruit salad today!

Bill’s Lodging Review:

In Bruges, we stayed at Hotel Bourgoensch Hof.  It was a long walk from the train station, but that’s because we wanted to stay in Old Town Bruges, which is also a long walk from the train station.  This hotel was located a few blocks from the main square, right on a canal, with a beautiful view right outside our window.  In fact, it was right around the corner from the most photographed spot in Bruges and very near the dock for one of the canal boat tours.  The room was located up one flight of stairs and was very large.  We were blessed with a king size bed, couch, table, desk, high ceilings and large windows overlooking the canal. We also had a nice breakfast buffet for 6 euros each.  We would definitely stay here again!

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