Add it my 'who knew?' list. The Philippines is home to some of the best drinking chocolate in the world - without a doubt, the best in Asia.
Cacao was introduced to the Philippines by the Spanish around the mid-17th century. Today, though the country is a huge exporter of cacao butter, paste, and beans (it imports quite a lot of beans as well), it doesn't really figure on the traveling chocolate lover's map. Which is surprising, because we left Manila with not a few sweet choco memories (and a kilo of edible souvenirs).
Most of the Philippines' cacao is grown on the southern island of Mindanao. Processing involves removing the fresh cacao beans from their pods, stripping them of their skin, and then drying and roasting them. (Incidentally, we sampled some fresh unprocessed cacao beans last week on Sumatra. Skin-on, they're fruity and a little juicy, and not at all 'chocolate-y'.) If not to be sold whole, the beans are ground to a rough paste, which is retailed loose (above), or formed into tablea (below), which take the shape of balls, round cakes, or plump discs.
Early in our trip we were gifted some fragrant tablea from Davao (capital of Mindanao) swaddled in pretty baby blue and pink packaging. Wandering around Binondo (Manila's Chinatown) a couple of days later we stumbled upon La Resurreccion, a wee mousehole of a shop selling the same brand, and nothing but.
Chinese New Year was fast approaching and stock was low. La Resurreccion's sweetened tablea were completely sold-out. We sprung for a box of the unsweetened version (to my best recollection, not more than U$10-15 for the whole box, at least 40 tablea total ).
What to do with tablea (or loose cacao)? Drink it, for one.
Filipinos make hot chocolate by boiling tablea with water and/or milk (usually canned condensed), adding sugar to taste. The chocolate is traditionally stirred and thickened with a wooden 'whisk', called a batidor, that is rubbed briskly between the palms to create a froth.
Some cooks prepare batches of hot chocolate mixture by pounding together cacao, sugar, and roasted peanuts. We were served an exquisite version of this choco-nutty beverage at a home in Pampanga (thanks Marc!). Alongside, a bowl of pinipig (young glutinous rice) to stir into the chocolate and then spoon up after we'd drained our cups (opening photo).
Cacao is also drunk as
cokolate-e tsokolate-eh. Manila's Abe restaurant does a serious version of this chocolate 'espresso' served in a demitasse: deepest brown, pleasingly bitter, and almost thick enough to qualify as a pudding.
Another way to enjoy Philippine cacao: in
campurado champurrado, a simple breakfast porridge of drinking chocolate poured over white rice.
La Resurreccion Chocolate, 618 Ongpin Street, Binondo, Manila.
Abe, Serendra Complex, The Fort, Manila.
Cafe Adriatico is another recommended spot for this half-beverage/half-dessert (according to one Filipino reader of EatingAsia, better than any drinking chocolate he's downed in Spain or in Mexico). Remedios Circle, Malate, Manila.