Surprises are a part of life in Vietnam, and often one of biggest surprises for visitors is what this country is able to create when it gets down to business. Vietnam’s potent coffee beans are gaining ground internationally, premium Vietnamese teas are exported to China and Korea, and high-quality Vietnamese furniture is shipped all over the world. What’s next?
The answer, it seems, is a product most people associate with luxury, indulgence and passion. That product, of course, is chocolate.
For two years now, Saigon-based chocolate makers Marou have been revolutionizing Vietnam’s reputation as a source for top quality chocolate–one bar at a time. The two Frenchmen and entrepreneurs behind Marou–Samuel Maruta and Vincent Mourou–left corporate careers behind to become Vietnam’s first artisan chocolate makers.
Since March 2012, The Metropole has used Marou’s wonderful dark chocolate bars in Le Club’s famous Chocolate Buffets. Chocolate lovers who’ve never tried the Metropole’s chocolate buffet should put it on their list right now.
Picture this: More than 20 varieties of chocolate are melted, baked, and blended into a plethora of swoon-worthy selections such as chocolate ganache, truffles, crepes, mousse, pralines, eclairs, tarts, cookies and cakes. On one side of the spectrum there is a hot chocolate station where you can whip up your personal blend, on the other side, an array of luscious chocolate ice-creams, and in between, a glorious chocolate fondue fountain. All of these treats are enjoyed at Le Club’s elegant tables overlooking the Metropole’s lush courtyard gardens.
Many of buffet-goers assume, rightfully, that the chocolate the Metropole uses comes from France and Belgium, made from cacao grown in Africa or South America. What they would never guess is that a large portion of the chocolate they’re tasting is made right in Ho Chi Minh City, using entirely Vietnamese ingredients!
If you’re wondering how Vietnam’s chocolate measures up to the big names in the business, you’ll be interested to know Marou’s bars from Tien Giang and Ben Tre provinces picked up the Best Dark Chocolate Bean-to-Bar silver and bronze awards, respectively, from the London-based Academy of Chocolate in February this year. Marou’s chocolate has also won over numerous chocolate bloggers and gourmands, and has been featured by international media such as ELLE, Wallpaper*, BBC Goodfood and Tatler.
Judges and customers on both sides of the globe are pleasantly surprised by Marou’s made-in-Vietnam chocolate.
So what are the characteristics of Vietnamese chocolate?
“First the colour should be a light, slightly reddish, brown, more mahogany than ebony,” says Maruta. “Then the taste should be complex and fruity, slightly acidulated even, before getting to more familiar chocolate notes, the finish should be long and fresh.” Maruta says Marou chocolate stands out for its aromatic richness, distinctive lack of unpleasant bitterness and smooth, melting texture.
Once a month, Marou begins crafting its chocolate by tasting and selecting the best raw cacao beans from some 10 farms in five provinces around the country. Maruta says being close to the source is one advantage Marou chocolate has over other, larger chocolate brands; “Bean-to-bar makers in European countries or in the US, even the ones who really pay attention to their sourcing, can’t really visit their providers more than once or twice a year and no-one will sample each and every bag of cacao they buy, as we do.”
Today, there is greater interest in Vietnamese chocolate than there has ever been, since the French planted the first cacao trees in Vietnam in the late 19th century. L’Epicerie du Metropole offers five regional varieties of Marou’s chocolate bars, inviting guests and travelers to share a piece of Vietnam with others back home, or simply discover this unexpected delight on their own.
Maruta says Vietnam’s journey to becoming a widely recognized origin for gourmet chocolate is not only in the hands of farmers and manufacturers: “Bean-to-bar makers are about re-creating a direct link between a magic product, people who are passionate and foolish enough to drop everything in the pursuit of making it and the pioneering customers who are ready to follow them on their Quixotic quest for the next greatest chocolate bar!”
Count the Metropole among those pioneers.