Two years ago, I took a road trip with some friends around southeastern Mexico, starting and ending in Orizaba, Veracruz, ultimately getting as far as Cancun. As I may have mentioned before, Mexico – thus far – is one of my top three countries for eating…thus, I was not only looking forward to exploring more of the country with locals, but also to trying new and familiar foods along the way.
For instance, there’s chocolate. I’ve wondered why Mexican chocolate doesn’t get much attention around the world, in spite of being the ancestral home of Theobroma cacao, the Latin name for the original cacao tree. Of course, colonial empires and globalization have played a role in spreading the harvesting of cacao throughout many tropical countries, namely the Ivory Coast, Venezuela, and Ecuador.
Fast forward to my road trip, and the city of Mérida, located in the state of Yucatan. Although counting nearly one million inhabitants in its metro area, its downtown area has a cozy feel to it. Mérida is hot year-round, has boulevards lined with mansions built almost entirely thanks to rope, and owing to Mayan tradition, unique foods found nowhere else in México.
Plus, due to its recognition as being one of the safest cities in the country and with that, a sizable expat population, they’ve got some fine places eat and drink. Places like Ki’XOCOLATL, a small chocolate shop adjacent to Santa Lucia Park.
Though there are some debates as to the origins of the word chocolate, it no doubt stems from Nahuatl, a language spoken for centuries in rural parts of central Mexico; xocolia means “to make bitter,” and atl refers to “water.”
When it was first discovered nearly 4000 years ago by pre-Olmec cultures, it was consumed in its naturally bitter state, ground into a paste with water. Subsequent civilizations started to add in what was organically found at the time in Mexican jungles and rain forests, namely honey, chilies, and vanilla.
After a long stroll through downtown Merida, I wanted to sit down and relax with some sweets. Ki’XOCOLATL offered hot chocolate, two ways, I as I deem it. The first method was the contemporary style, sweetened with sugar. The latter, evoking how Olmecs and Mayans may have enjoyed it, started off by merely being the bitter cacao seed heated up with water. The waiter served it alongside honey, brown sugar, achiote – a yellow-orange seed typically used to add color to foods, allspice, habanero, and cinnamon, although cinnamon hails from Sri Lanka.
Although the ancient hot chocolate took a bit of getting used to, I admit that the modern one was the best cup of it I have ever tried.
Where have you tried your favorite cup of hot chocolate? Whether it was in Mexico or somewhere else, let me know!