Sunday, August 12, 2012

In Which I Rant About Chocolate

From Wikipedia - yay, Creative Commons!

The state of chocolate in Taiwan - nay, most of Asia - is a sad thing indeed.

I'm not really talking about the crappy local chocolate - I don't bother with most chocolate cakes (there are a few exceptions), those waxy-brown gold foil chocolate ingots or the cheaper candy bars.

I'm not talking about the fairly good - although in my opinion still not quite up to European standard, but still good - local artisanal chocolate by companies like Awfully Chocolate and Black as Chocolate (I happen to think Black as Chocolate is slightly better, but that's just me).

Which, by the way, there are still plenty of good sweets to be found in Taipei. I always suggest a visit to Red on Tree, the purveyor of the amazing desserts available at Caffe Libero.

I'm not even talking about the locally made chocolate that's meant to be good but isn't really - think "chocolate cafes" like Chocozing (which I believe as closed) where what you get really isn't as good as what you were hoping for (their "rich dark hot chocolate" is about as rich and dark as I would expect from a standard hot chocolate. I do not drink crap from a packet).

I'm talking mostly about imported, "should be good" chocolate that's just terrible, because whoever imports it doesn't know what the **** they're doing.

Picture the scene: you go to Dean&Deluca in the basement of Breeze Center on Fuxing N. Road. You're surrounded by interesting chocolates from great places - European chocolate, good chocolate from Africa and South America, chocolates with different fillings and flavors. You spend not a small amount of money to buy a small selection (2-3 small items could easily run you NT$400). You get home. You greedily open your chocolate, mouth watering...

...and it's covered in frosty white stuff. It's still "good to eat", as in it won't kill you, but the flavor's not quite right and the texture is all kinds of funked up.

Or you buy a box or selection of Lindt truffles at City Super, only to get home and realize that some of them have melted slightly and then reconstituted themselves, so while they taste generally fine, they're a bit grainier and waxier than you're used to from a generally good company with a wide distribution and otherwise adequate QA like Lindt.

Or you pick up an interesting treat for Christmas - say one of those pieced-out chocolate bars with nugget-like pieces filled with whiskey or liqueur. They're too sweet as it is (they definitely add sugar to the alcohol - a whiskey chocolate bar shouldn't be that sweet), but the one you got has been on the shelf far too long and tastes...fine...but only fine. Not sublime.

Or you buy a bag of basic chocolate chips for cookies, muffins, truffles or cupcakes. Those too are covered in white film. Fortunately, baking fixes this problem and you can still use them without worry, but it shouldn't be that way: I understand that the occasional bag or bar will get the white film, but in Taiwan it's like every single chocolate item you buy has it, at least if it's imported.

Seriously, who is in charge of this? I'd like to punch their lights out. What kind of subpar storage or shipping facilities do they use? Or is it stores, who don't know how to properly display and sell chocolate? What is it? Why the travesty? Why the heartache?

Why not just do it right?

For the prices stores charge for good chocolate, you'd think they could afford quality shipping and storage for imported items.

Why do I have to say a little prayer every time I open a bag or bar or unwrap a truffle, hoping that this time, it won't be screwed up?

Oh well. If you'll excuse me, I'll be at Black as Chocolate or Red on Tree at Caffe Libero.


Anonymous said...

Dear Jenna,

Can we be friends? I live in Taipei (Canadian born Taiwanese... Taiwanese who lived in Canada?) and was directed to your blog by a new friend who said you had the best (funniest) posts and a very useful guide to spicy food in the city. Maybe someday soon we can try out tacos or visit 侯硐貓村 (that cool cat town somewhere in Taiwan)... if you aren't totally weirded out by me randomly messaging you.

Anonymous said...

It's simple: they're imported primarily for Taiwanese consumers, and Taiwanese consumers generally don't know what good chocolate tastes like (and those that do, because maybe they have travelled, don't like the taste. Too sweet.)
The truth is, chocolate is like any "Western" food here: Taiwanese people want to say that they enjoy it, because there's a certain cachet about the worldlyness of it, but they really only want to eat their own food. This is why Western restaurants eventually end up serving western-looking variants of Chinese food. It's perfect: you get the big face of saying you went out for fettucini alfredo, and the enjoyment of actually eating soft noodles.
Chocolate is in an even more complicated category, because it's a sweet, and the Taiwanese don't have a proper sweet tooth. You want proof? Things that shouldn't be sweet are (Taiwanese sausages. Hello?!!??), and things that should, aren't (cakes. Taiwanese cakes. They replace the delicious icing parts of a normal cake with mulched fruit. Also, not for nothing that the donuts here taste like unsalted bagels.)
No different from the Starbucks (and Starbucks clones) trend of buying coffee in this tea culture. They don't want coffee: they want the American (specifically, the West Coast) lifestyle. This is why so many people here love flavoured coffee, and coffee flavour. (i.e. "Try this chocolate-flavoured coffee," or "This coffee-flavoured chocolate is deee-lish.")
Bottom line: different cultures, different tastebuds.

Jenna Cody said...

You make some interesting points, but I'd be wary of over-using "the Taiwanese" as though they're one monolithic block of people all with the same tastes. There are some general truths here, but there's also a lot of variation.

For example, I find a lot of fruit shaved ice to be very sweet: mango milk ice especially, and many Taiwanese like it.

I also know plenty of Taiwanese people who are really into high-end wine, coffee and chocolate (not so much cheese) - those fancy siphon bars aren't there for foreigners: Taiwanese get high quality coffee at those places.

I can also name plenty of Western restaurants that Taiwanese people I know will eat at where they do Western food right: Johnny Cucina Italiana is one (the pasta is truly al dente), Zoca Pizza, Red on Tree for desserts, The Diner is popular.

Frankly, for all the somewhat-true-but-let's-not-stereotype good points you make, you could say the same about Westerners. Including me, at times. We say we want Chinese food, but what we really want is Western food cooked to be like Chinese food.

Anonymous said...

So true. In fact, I sorely miss Chinese takeout from back home.

kawa chang said...

I bought 2 boxes of chocolates (from Italy) and they were all covered in white film. Its the first time I've purchased chocolates here so I put it down to being a one off. I'm from Australia and most of our chocolates are imported but most taste pretty good. Yes, I can totally relate to how disappointing it is to dig into chocolates that taste like....something completely different. Its not the weather either. I've bought Lindt chocolates in Singapore and they were perfectly fine. Its a mystery.

Anonymous said...

Go to Gorogoro in Yilan City. Have the Belgian hot chocolate. Then die in peace ;)