Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Finding cocoa in Singapore

Reluctantly leaving Cambodia behind we end up in Singapore for a few days; my expectations of finding cocoa here are of course extremely low – after all Singapore is only really famous for growing money and buildings. However, I thought it would be interesting while here to try and explore the local chocolate scene – chocolates are a popular luxury in this part of the world, and I know that there is a growing artisanal as well as factory scale industry in Japan, so maybe here too.

This however, proved really quite difficult. We googled for chocolate shops, and there were a range of results. One that looked really interesting was the Chocolate Research Facility (http://www.chocolateresearchfacility.com) that boasts over one hundred flavours. They have three outlets in Singapore according to their website – but they did not seem to be where they said they would be! Anyone who has been to Singapore will know that it is just a mass of shopping malls, each one a glittering, ice cold maze of marble, glass, shops, fast food outlets, and millions and millions of people everywhere – shopping. Anyone who knows me will also know that I would rather be searching for cocoa in a leech infested backwater than a shopping centre – so although I did persevere in the search – I am mentally and constitutionally inadequately equipped to see something even right in front of my nose in one of those places.

To make matters worse – it was the day before Valentines Day – so when I did find the counters for the various shops, they were mobbed and on the whole empty of chocolate, and the poor shop assistants too weary to answer any of my questions about cocoa bean sources and flavours. This was particularly the case when I found an outlet for Laurent Bernard (http://www.nibschocolate.net/about-us.html), another chocolatier that I was interested in finding. It was just a counter in a department store, and so busy I was only just able to get a quick look at some of their single origin chocolate bars on offer but none of them used a SE Asia grown cocoa. However, on their website they do have Ile de Java and Papousie – so I wish I had managed to find their main shop.

I did find a counter for Royce chocolates (www. http://www.e-royce.com/english/index.html) – these are very beautiful Japanese chocolates that are delicious creamy and rich truffle blocks (about the same size and shape as my own chocolates), with no outer chocolate shell on them. Each box comes with a little fork so that you can pick them up without them melting onto your fingers.

The following day I decided to explore a different part of the city and spent most of the day in the fantastic Botanic Gardens; a really beautiful place – vast, with huge trees, palms, lakes, whole collections of gingers (I learned that ginger and bananas are in the same family!) and insects and birds so loud in places that they almost drowned out the background noice of traffic that is constant there. Just before I left I spotted a rather thin and spindly Theobroma cacao plant, in a section of the gardens dedicated to plants of economic importance. This was a new part of the garden so the trees haven’t really settled in, hence the spindliness – but there were flowers and small pods growing on the stem already. So I did find a cocoa tree in Singapore!

As I walked around I tried to think of a Singapore flavour for my SE Asia selection: would love to do frangipani (a very diverse collection of these at the gardens) but I doubt it would be practical to take blossoms home. We have enjoyed some delicious Thai food here – with coconut, kaffir leaf, lemongrass and ginger’s cousin galangal – so maybe there is a flavour there that I can explore.


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