Aztec Chocolate in Modica, Sicily
When referring to a particular make as being real, there is always the risk of seeming to unfairly imply that others are not real. However, it is tempting to refer to Antica Dolceria Bonajuto‘s chocolates as the real deal. Celebrated chocolatiers in Europe have earned their reputation by developing their own methods of making chocolates using cocoa (or without any cocoa, as the case may be), in ways that are very different from the older Mesoamerican method. Bonajuto still use the Aztec method of creating chocolates which, for those accustomed to newer receipts, makes one re-evaluate what a chocolate is. The colonial rhetoric has characterised Europe as being Old World and the colonies as being New World, but the Aztec chocolate makes one realise that it might be more appropriate to characterise Europe as the New World as far as chocolates are concerned.
Bonajuto is in Modica, Sicily, tucked away in an alley off Corso Umberto I. Baroque neighbourhood, on the pavement a faint whiff of Turkish tobacco and a toddler navigating the cracks and potholes on his micro scooter, a couple of vintage Vespas out front, sweets behind the door. La Dolce Vita…
Let’s first address the elephant in the room: Italy is not at the top of the list when it comes to chocolates. Actually, I think Italy ranks only marginally higher than the UK and the US, which isn’t saying much. So, of all the things one can eat and drink in Sicily, it seems counterintuitive to include chocolates on the list of things to eat in the south of Sicily. But you must.
In a word, Bonajuto chocolates are distinctive. They are gritty. The cocoa is semi-ground. The sugar is left undissolved in the mixture. The result is a gritty texture that releases bitterness and sweetness separately. They are made entirely of cocoa powder, caster sugar and spices. No dairy products like butter or milk.
I don’t think it’s appropriate to characterise Bonajuto chocolates as being superior to the best that Switzerland and Belgium have to offer, but they are very different in a gloriously primeval way. The simplicity does not allow defects of material or process to be hidden.
I recommend calling them in advance to book a tour of the kitchen. It is surprising how much an immaculate but small kitchen can produce both in terms of variety and quantity. I always enjoy seeing the people behind the product. The people at Bonajuto are very welcoming and take pride in what they do — both heartwarming and reassuring. They charge only a nominal fee for the tour, which includes a very generous sampling plate of chocolates and pastries. You will most probably not be able to eat everything they give you, but do not worry: they will happily pack what you cannot finish for you to take away and enjoy later. Not knowing this at the outset, I tried to eat as much as possible on site, and I was literally bouncing off the walls with all the caffeine and sugar that I consumed in that short period.
One regret I have is not having bought more of their chocolate liqueur. I was initially rather sceptical, but I think it’s divine served cold. You may decide that you do not want to share it with others.