Chocolate and an unusual delicacy in Vietnam!

Time for a bit of a personal post today…

One benefit of having a large family on my wife’s side is the exposure to parts of Vietnam I’d otherwise never get.

On Vietnamese national day this year, we went back to my girl’s hometown for a few days. On the second day in Binh Long – a small town about 100km from Ho Chi Minh City – we went to visit one of her aunts, who lived with her husband on a reasonably-sized property.

Now it’s no secret that I absolutely LOVE chocolate – thus my need to wear loose-fitting shirts to hide the inevitable consequences of its consumption – so I’d always been curious to see how this magical food is grown. I was brimming with excitement as we approached the farm, knowing I’d finally get the chance to see some Cacao trees and maybe even try some chocolate fresh from the tree (of course I knew it would be bitter and completely unlike the finished product, but the child inside of me didn’t care in the least)!

We arrived at her home, where I met the sprightly little lady herself, along with her husband, who had a warm but shy manner to him.

Uncle

After pleasantries had been exchanged, we went out to a small shed behind their home. I heard they were raising some kind of animal in pens within, but nobody could tell me the English word for it, nor did I know the Vietnamese, but whatever it was, it was a delicacy in Vietnam.

Venturing into the shed, I quickly discovered exactly what the mysterious creatures were – an animal I’d never actually seen before in real life…

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My girl’s aunt and a cousin peer into one of the small pens.

Porcupines!

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I snapped a couple of pics of the animals and we quickly set off down a path deeper into the tropical vegetation.

I was full of anticipation as I knew we were going to see the cacao trees, but first we had to cross several creeks and a small river. My camera is water-resistant, but I wasn’t keen on seeing what happened if it plunged into the water, so I took my time crossing the stream, being sure each rock was secure and each step firmly planted.

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Crossing the river

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My wife could almost have used one of my shoes as a boat to cross the river

Finally we arrived, and to my delight, the branches of the cacao trees were loaded with an abundance of fruit.

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Before I knew it, fruit had been picked and hacked open, and I was offered a taste. The pods have a thick, hard outer shell, and inside, the beans are surrounded by a white pulp. The pulp itself is sweet and tangy. We were told to just enjoy the taste of the pulp, which is used in the fermentation process that is the first step in producing chocolate as we know it.

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Inside one of the pods (I’d already finished with quite a few beans by the time I took this one).

Never having been one to do as I’m told, I couldn’t fight my curiosity anymore, and I bit down on one of the cacao beans to see what chocolate tastes like before it’s chocolate…

It’s not nice! The flavour is quite bitter, but lacking the intensity of flavour that cocoa powder has. The consistency as I chewed on the bean was like coarsely-ground coffee. I did not enjoy the flavour at all, but I was happy to have finally experienced the taste of “real” chocolate.

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My niece Nam was quite possessive of her cacao pod!

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Nam and I pose for my wife to take a (rare) picture.

I took some pics of family members and we headed back to the house.

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A group shot of the aunt, cousins, my wife and her mother and sister-in-law, and one of our nieces. It’s weird to go from a family of two pre-marriage to a family of… I don’t know… about 200!

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Jade’s aunt posed for a quick snapshot before heading back to the house.

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Back at the house, everyone sat in the living room and enjoyed a good chat. I took this quick shot of the uncle while they were gossiping.

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The aunt was a great host, making sure everyone had plenty of ice – which she collected from the bottom of this chest freezer – in their drinks all afternoon.

While they were talking, I wandered around the house snapping little details that caught my eye. I really loved the kitchen, and was in my element taking pictures of random things like helmets hanging on the wall and power adapters.

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The kitchen was awesome – love those rustic Vietnamese kitchens!

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Locals always think me really strange when I start taking these kinda pictures. I could try to explain to them what I see in what to them are mundane or even ugly objects, but there’s not really much point – I just smile at them and keep shooting…

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