Paris is known less for its chocolate than its fromages and saucissons, it's true, but there's one culinary treasure that many visitors unfortunately miss out on only because they don't know to order it: chocolat chaud. Now those of you who took French language classes know that "chocolat chaud" merely translates to "hot chocolate," and that doesn't sound like anything worth hopping a flight for. But served in French style, it is an epicurean experience unlike any other. So on a recent trip, and in an effort to relive past greatness, we hit two of the most popular Parisian spots for chocolat chaud and compared them. Here's what we found.
We should start by stating that, sometime around 1994, an Australian tipster pointed us to Angelina in the Tuileries, which is perhaps the city's most popular place to sip chocolat chaud. We recall the cost hovered somewhere around $7 for a cup, which may not sound staggering nowadays, but back when a youth hostel stay cost $10 a night and Starbucks was nothing more than a glimmer in its founders' eyes, that was a whopping amount to pay for some brown liquid. Nonetheless, drinking their chocolat l'Africain remains the best memory of that visit. We were served one goblet of fresh whipped cream, one entire pitcher of ice water, and two steaming cups of silky, melted chocolate. Yep, no grains, no lumps, no separation between liquid and powder. It's now priced at 7.2 euros (about $9.75) and we'd pay triple that.
Returning to Paris a few weeks ago eager to down some more of that good stuff (but not willing to stand in the hours-long lines), we were steered to Carette and Jacques Genin. Carette's version, we were told, is made without milk so it's a favorite of the lactose intolerant. Practically running over to the only empty outside table we could find, I sat with a friend , ordered, and eagerly waited. Soon enough, a silver pitcher arrived along with two thumb-print-sized shortbread cookies. We poured, we sipped, and we analyzed. Hmm. It was wonderful and totally drinkable, though not as sugary or satisfying as Angelina's. Disappointingly, a silty substance remained at the bottom of our cups and the beverage had a strange way of coating our throats, but at 7.5 euros (about $10) for the three mugs we filled, it was worth the investment.
"Ours might be a little less intense, but it's good competition," promised our server at Jacques Genin in his broken English. We were given the 411 on this place from Wendy Lyn, a blogger with her own site, The Paris Kitchen, and leader of informative French food tours (you'll meet her tomorrow). Anyhow, Genin's version arrived in a chic white porcelain pot with a mug, glass of water, and four lovely hazelnut-filled chocolates. The chocolate chaud didn't blow our minds. Genin's was lacking sweetness and it was weirdly grainy. The price was slightly less expensive (6.5 euros, or about $8.75) and the ambiance, though more elegant and modern than Carette, was a bit too sterile for our liking, so we say stick with Angelina first, then Carette if you aren't willing to stand in a long line, and Genin if you happen to be in that 'hood.
Genin's chocolates, regardless, were delicious and not to be missed. And so were the dozens of other chocolate treats we gobbled on during the trip. Here are some fun photos to show what we define as true French fantasies.
This Japanese chocolatier, whose wares were found in Galeries Lafayette, displays his chocolates like eye shadows. Each color reflects a different flavor. Yes, you read that correctly: 43 euros ($58) for 36 pieces.
Even the chocolate has a French flair for fashion. Check out these yummy handbags...
... and these shoes! Tres chic!
We found a chocolate festival taking place down a side street and walked in to find a woman carving away at a life-sized statue of the stuff. Mon dieu!
Next time you're in Paris, be sure to stop into chocolatier Patrick Roget's boutique. We hear he grows the ingredients on his own property (basil, lime, and orange, for example) and creates spectacular sweets.
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And here's his attention-grabbing window display: a huge chocolate gorilla! Now there's a sight to make any chocolate-craving tourist go ape.