I waited over 35 years and traveled 600 miles for this. To mom’s side of the family, this is liquid gold. Like wine connoisseurs, my aunts and uncles would sniff, sip, and swirl the thick velvety mix inside their mouths before giving their seal of approval – to make sure it was pure cacao and sugar, no extenders. Any add-ons (God forbid!) were frowned upon.
Single-handedly preparing meals for her 13 children and feasts for 100 people, my grandma was a culinary force to contend with. For years, Lola Cion would send us cargo boxes with 1,000 chocolate balls lovingly made by hand. As a child, I mastered the art of delayed gratification by helping mom wrap the tsokolate and distribute them as gifts. Oh, how the sweet earthy smell would permeate the room!
A long-standing Christmas tradition, Tsokolate Eh! is always present during Noche Buena. Our family would usually sit down for dinner and stay until midnight. Just before the clock strikes twelve, mom serves delicate little demitasse cups of this hot drink with ensaymada, suman latik, and queso de bola. It doesn’t matter how full you are – there is always room for tsokolate!
As I got older, the box became a rarity. Lola Cion got weaker with age, had an accident and was bedridden. We took care of her for about a year. When Lola moved back to Bicol province, I went on a quest to find the best liquid gold. Like a mad treasure hunter, I tried every restaurant and café but nothing came close.
Early this year, we visited Lola and had a family reunion. We cooked the traditional way outdoors with a view of the beautiful perfectly cone-shaped Mt. Mayon. Indulging in the aroma of cacao slowly roasting on wood fire, I stir the beans – faces, voices, memories poignantly floating in my mind – wishing I had come sooner yet relieved – happy that we were together again, bonding over food. As the cool breeze took the sweet earthy scent up to the sky, I prayed that each dish that I master would make my lola proud.