When I want to treat myself here in Italy, I order a cioccomenta. Or, if you would prefer its full name, try saying cioccolata calda alla menta (in English ‘hot chocolate with mint’).
Italian hot chocolate is famous the world over. It is thick to the point of being almost gooey and it is fabulously rich and tasty, too. It is just like a bar of the finest chocolate that has been slowly melted and carefully poured into a cup to give you a truly indulgent experience.
It is so good, so satisfying, it seems like nothing can be better than it.
Now, let me tell you that mint and chocolate is not a flavour combination I have grown up with. In fact, I remember a close friend who had moved to the USA many years ago, telling me with a barely contained indignation about a tub of mint and chocolate flavoured ice-cream she had bought in an American supermarket and which had turned out to be the yuckiest thing she had ever had.
‘They put mint in their ice-cream?!’, I incredulously asked. At that point, the only two established ways to consume mint in Bulgaria were as an infusion and seasoning. There were also these little hard candies with a very strong minty taste which were almost bitter to eat. They were very popular with the elderly, so obviously didn’t have a cool factor attached to them. But ice-cream with chocolate and mint?! I don’t think any sane Bulgarian person would have even entertained the thought of it at that time (about twentyish years ago).
Things change! Our understanding of the world expands every day and it is not a rare occurrence for something which we had initially rejected to end up finding its way straight to our hearts. So, when I eventually tried chocolate and mint together in an ice-cream a few years after that conversation, I actually loved it. The zingy freshness of the mint gave depth to the chocolate instead of it being simply sickly sweet. It was also very refreshing especially on a hot summer day.
From then on mint and chocolate together became one of my most favourite combinations and things were to become even better when, unexpectedly, I found a new way to enjoy it.
It was a cold February day in 2013, when my then fiance (now husband) and I stopped off at the fabled historical cafe ‘Florian’ in Venice. We were not living in Italy at that point and instead we were enjoying a short break in the city on water during which we had gotten engaged.
We had heard a lot about ‘Florian’, but we had only passed by it by that point, so on our last day in Venice, we decided to pay it a visit.
When the waiter brought us the menus, my attention was immediately caught by a drink called ‘Casanova‘ which was described as hot chocolate with added mint cream and chocolate shavings. I ordered it intrigued.
‘Casanova‘ arrived served in a small glass with elegantly curved metal handle. The hot chocolate was thick and satisfying and the added mint cream made it feel light and refreshing rather than stodgy and sugary. I really enjoyed sipping it slowly and it is a small precious memory which I still have.
So, when we moved to Vicenza in the August of 2014, obviously I was looking forward to have the same drink. Luckily for me, I don’t have to go to Venice every time I crave a hot chocolate with mint, as the local cafes also serve it under the less fancy but much more to the point name of ‘cioccomenta‘. Of course, if you wish, you can always order it using its longer form: ‘cioccolata calda alla menta‘.
Next time that you are visiting Italy (or if you already live here and you are looking for a new hot drink to enjoy), take my word for it and order a cioccomenta. I am sure, you will be seduced.
N.B. I took the picture above in a cafe called ‘La Triestina’ on ‘Corso Palladio’ in Vicenza. I like their cioccomente with their lush whipped cream and refreshing mint syrup. Just, depending on the member of staff who is making it, the drink may look slightly different each time. Sometimes it is served in a wine glass (as pictured above) and other times in a tall glass with a handle. Sometimes the mint syrup is placed on top of the hot chocolate and it is all finished with a generous portion of whipped cream. Other times, the mint syrup is at the bottom of the glass and the portion of whipped cream is halved. It always tastes good, though, hence I keep going back for more. A cioccomenta there costs 3 euros.
N.B.: Italy for Foodies is my new culinary-dedicated series. In short blog posts every now and then I will tell you about certain foods and drinks in Italy which I personally love. I hope you enjoy these posts. Don’t forget to let me know your thoughts about this first post in the series and, perhaps, what else you would like me to feature in it going forward. Ta!