Say each syllable quickly like a staccato beat: cho-koh-la-teh-eh! with the accent on the “eh” thus my exclamation point. It’s Filipino thick hot chocolate, specifically made with tablea, (tab-LAY-ah; also tableya), cacao balls. Tablea also comes in flat or thick disks and even squares, but balls are the most common shape.
Tsokolate is made from cacao and traditionally from crushed peanuts which add a pleasant grittiness and nutty flavor. The ingredients are ground together to form a thick paste and can be kept in bottles for several months.
Most commercial tableas however omit the peanuts and use grounded cacao that is shaped into balls. They are easily available (unsweetened or sweetened) at supermarkets under brand names like Alfonso’s (my favorite), Megan’s, and Antonio Pueo (which I find bitter).
It’s been raining steadily for more than a week now here in Manila, and the temperature has dropped, a rarity here in my tropical country. Naturally, with the cooler weather, my thoughts and palate (they’re almost always connected somehow) yearn for something hot and liquid. Classic American cocoa or French hot chocolate has its place and time, but when it’s gloomy outside, I want my tsokolate.
My ideal tsokolate is brown as earth and thick enough to dip bread or cake into, but I haven’t had much luck with that; so I get my fix from Dulcinea, a Spanish deli here in Manila, that serves a terrific tsokolate with churros (fluted crullers).
Here are three tableas ready to be cooked. The ratio I use is 1 tablea per cup of milk, which is good for one person. Of course using more tableas per cup of milk would naturally yield a thicker, richer drink. I use low-fat milk instead of evaporated milk, which is what Dulcinea uses, thus their thicker, more sinful blend. As the heat warms the milk, the tableas become softer and easier to crush.
Traditionally, native tsokolate is made by pouring hot water and the tsokolate paste into a tsokolateria, and then using a batidor to allow the mixture to foam. A batidor (bah-tee-DOR) is that wooden beater you see in the photo used for whipping hot chocolate into a tizzy, thus achieving that much desired froth and foam.
Frankly, I don’t know how to use a batidor correctly, although the motion is simple: it’s rubbing your hands together while holding the batidor. I often prefer my rubber spatula to a batidor when making tsokolate, since I’m not successful at achieving thickness or froth, but then again, I need to rethink my tsokolate-making methods.
Of course what’s a cup of tsokolate to do without a (dipping!) partner? It’s best with pan de sal (native bread rolls), or my favorite, ensaymada (EN-sigh-ma-da), a brioche-like yeast roll slathered with butter, sugar, and grated queso de bola (Edam cheese).