Chocolate is one of my very favorite things. Not all chocolate, of course; I admit to being a Grade A Chocolate Snob. And that, my friend, is how some of my travels devolved into chocolate tourism. Twice last year I flew places, at least in part, to buy chocolate.
First, there was a day in Toronto in November. I know what you must be thinking–Toronto does not exactly have the reputation of a chocolate mecca. And, really, I didn’t go there for only chocolate. My friend Randi lives there, so I was mostly going to visit her. But she suggested visiting SOMA Chocolatemaker, and who am I to say no to chocolate? As it turns out, it was one of the highlights of the trip. I spent an inordinate amount of money on chocolate, including several bars of their Stratus chocolate, which won silver in the 2015 World final of the International Chocolate Awards; a half dozen truffles; and a container of Mexican drinking chocolate mix. Stellar, on all accounts.
Toronto is fairly close–it’s less than an hour of flight time for me. Not to negate the chocolate if it’s too easily procured, of course. I’m kind of looking forward to heading back, both to see Randi and to buy more chocolate from SOMA.
Second, there was a weekend jaunt to Brussels about a week before Christmas. I told people it was mostly about seeing the fabulous Christmas market in Brussels (because I’d never been to a European Christmas market before), but it was mostly about the chocolate. I’d been to Brussels last year overnight and brought back some amazing chocolate, but there wasn’t nearly enough time to fully explore all that Brussels has to offer.
Wittamer, Neuhaus, Pierre Marcolini, Passion, Laurent Gerbaud, Jean-Philippe Darcis, Galler, and even Godiva. We visited them all (well, okay, not Godiva . . . after all, I can walk down the street here at home and lay hands on Godiva). But my very favorite was Elisabeth, a shop that collects the best artisanal sweets from around Belgium. There are four locations in Brussels, each with its own specialty.
Since my husband and I were visiting the Christmas market, we headed to the two shops located near Grand Place, on Rue au Beurre. One store featured gigantic meringues in the window, and they looked so amazing I wanted to buy them all. Meringues and planes don’t mix, though. That shop had packaged goods, lots of breads and cakes. The second shop was mostly chocolates and candy, including Cuperdons, which I love. They also had the most fantastic handmade melo cakes. Depending on where you live, you might know them better as Malomars. It was heavenly.
Let’s just say that I flew back to the States with a lot of really great chocolate, and the people with whom I exchange holiday gifts received some of it. Of course, now that I’m out of chocolate, I wish I would have both bought more and given away less. Sixteen hours in the air for 24 hours in Brussels? Totally worth it.
And not just for the chocolate, I might add. The Winter Wonders holiday market was beautiful, too [click each photo to embiggen].*
*Weirdly, both trips were marked somewhat by terrorism. I was in Toronto the night of the Paris attacks, and my husband and I were in Brussels about two weeks or so after Brussels had raised its terror alert level and put the city in lockdown. Maybe unsurprisingly, the Brussels trip was the one where a response to the threat was more obvious. Interestingly, though, it was at the Philadelphia airport where security seemed much higher. There were security officers with sniffer dogs on the jetway to get onto the plane, but no clear uptick in security at the Brussels airport–it seemed business as usual, at least to the naked eye. There were a few heavily armed soldier types at the Christmas market itself (which was packed with people), but I’m unsure if that’s a real difference from other years. The fact is, though, that I didn’t feel unsafe or threatened at any time.