Kallari bars are considered to be some of the best chocolate around (at least by pastry chef Kate Zuckerman–see this article–and Supermarket Guru Phil Lempert). Available in Whole Foods markets, they are a sweet you can feel good about buying: Over 850 Kichwa families living in the Amazon rain forest region of Ecuador have formed the Kallari Association, which grows the cacao used in the bars AND coordinates the production of chocolate from their own beans. Plus, 100% of profits are returned to the Kallari Association, allowing people in the area to make a living by doing something other than clearing trees in the Amazon. (Watch this NBC video or read this NY Times article to learn more about Kallari.)
Kallari farmers are one of a small number of groups who farm, make, and market their own chocolate (another such group is the Grenada Chocolate Company, which operates from Grenada, in the southeastern Caribbean). But what’s unique about Kallari is its foray into cultural tourism: now you have the chance to eat the chocolate in Ecuador, where it’s made.
To taste the chocolate in a restaurant setting, head to the Kallari Cafe, in the new town section of Ecuador’s capital city, Quito. They offer a three-course cultural dinner, with traditional Amazon dishes and a 15-minute presentation on Kichwa culture, including language, crafts, and methods used in their organic coffee and chocolate production, all for $7.50 per person. (They can handle groups of 10-25 people, but you have to schedule it two weeks in advance.) If you have less time, pick up a sandwich and a smoothie for lunch. And snag a piece of the Amazon to take home in the form of organic chocolate and coffee or Kallari handicrafts.
Fast Facts: Quito’s new town neighborhood is known for its shops and restaurants, but be sure to make your way to old town’s museums and churches for a cultural experience: La Compania de Jesus and Museo de la Ciudad are favorites.
La Mitad del Mundo (The Middle of the World) is a monument just north of the capital that straddles the Equator.
Photo: Kate McCormack