Culture

Here’s The History Of Why Costa Rican Cacao Is Spiritually And Culturally Significant

It’s truly impossible to imagine growing up in a world without chocolate, and I’m not talking about Hershey’s. Really rich, dark chocolate was used medicinally in my house. If I had any type of feeling or was crying, my mother wouldn’t say a word, walk away, and come back with chocolate.

Join me on my own adventure in learning the history of cacao with a Costa Rican indigenous tribe, los Bribri.

Any good Costa Rican chocolate is made by hand.

CREDIT: Untitled. Digital Image. CaribeansCR. 21 September 2018.

Only in the last 100 years or so have traditional cacao farmers started letting the cacao cool into molds, como Hershey. Super traditional farms will roll the freshly stone-ground cacao into little cigarillos and the texture is more crumbly and dynamic.

Cacao trees are native to tropical Latin America.

CREDIT: Crush Boone / The Tico Times

The cacao fruit pods themselves were used as currency in some Aztec and Mayan cultures. Mayans even had an annual festival in honor of Ek Chuah, the cacao god that brought them the sacred fruit used for medicinal and spiritual rituals.

Pero Puerto Viejo is one of the few places that creates single estate bean to bar chocolate.

CREDIT: Untitled. Digital Image. Cho.co. 21 September 2018.

Every farm and every tree will produce a different chocolate taste. The liquid sunshine and high elevation jungles that exist in Costa Rica allow for some of the best cacao beans in the world to flourish. My girlfriend and I traveled to Puerto Viejo, an Afro-Caribbean beach town, known for its intact indigenous culture, big waves and cacao.

First, we met with a shaman (“awa”) at the Bribri indigenous reserve.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

He explained to us that this cone shaped structure represents the Bribri’s connection to the Universe and to God. They have always known that the world was round and the structure symbolizes the round earth we sit on that points directly to God and our higher spiritual selves.

The Bribri is a largely matriarchal society.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

They are the only ones who can inherit land and prepare the sacred cacao drink that is essential for their rituals.

In just the last few years, the Bri Bri have started to write down their language and teach it at the schools to maintain their culture and continue to pass it down to more generations. They are the voting majority of the Talamanca province of Costa Rica and make a living selling cacao, bananas and plantains, while living off the land.

This is what the inside of a ripe cacao pod looks like.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

I know, I wasn’t expecting that either. The white coating surrounding the beans themselves tastes like mango or yogurt, depending on who you ask. It’s very tart and very delicious, and the source of cocoa butter.

The first step is to ferment the beans over a fire for five days.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

The first being tradition. The truth is that the Bribri do tend to suffer from lung issues because of all the smoke inhalation over the course of their lives. The other reason is that most roofs are made from a native plant called suita. The rising smoke deters bugs from making the roof their home.

Then, they leave them out in the sun to dry for 22 days.

CREDIT: Lindsay Fendt / The Tico Times

That’s how the cacao starts to brown and develop its rich flavor. That’s also how you develop la paciencia. ????

In Bribri mythology, the cacao tree is a woman and Sibu (Dios) made into a tree.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

Cacao branches are forbidden to be used as firewood and only women are allowed to make the sacred cacao. It’s only used in ceremonial purposes, like when a girl gets her period for the first time. You can support Bribri women by buying their organic, hand made chocolate.

Then, the beans are roasted over a fire for about 8 minutes.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

The beans have to be constantly stirred the whole time. As the stirrer, I can tell you that it is labor intensive to be in 90 degree heat, over a fire, with smoke blowing up in your face, while you quickly stir.

The traditional next step is to grind the cacao beans with a stone.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú
Many years before, they used the huge wooden pillón you see to the right. My first boricua thought was “Ummm, I could use that much mofongo.”

The beans are then tossed to separate the shell and prepare for further grounding.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú
Because the shells of the cacao are much lighter than the dense bean inside, they naturally just fall onto the earth and are used as fertilizer. What’s left is the pure cacao, ready to be ground even further.

Today, they use a metal grinder to create the paste.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

This is 100 percent pure cacao you’re looking at. In this form, it is made into a ceremonial drink, but it too bitter to eat raw. We had it sandwiched between some sweet banana slices.

There are several non-profit organizations you can support to aid the Bribri.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

They use every shred of the land to build their homes, necklaces, dye their artisan crafts and more. El Punte, however, offers educational assistance and micro-loans to families to help them become even more self-sufficient.

This is my face after one cup of drinking chocolate.

CREDIT: Danielli Marzouca / mitú

After boiling a pot of water seasoned with fresh canela from the ground and some organic sugar, you add the creamy paste and stir. Cacao is said by the Bribri to have six medicinal properties, one of them being a mood-lifter.

In this part of Costa Rica, you can find a few shops that offer beer, wine and coffee + chocolate pairings.

CREDIT: Untitled. Digital Image. Cho.co. 21 September 2018.

This is the traditionally rolled chocolate I mentioned earlier. We came to Cho.co in Puerto Viejo after a surfing lesson and this pairing was everything we needed.

However, cacao has only recently started to make a comeback after a devastating fungal epidemic.

CREDIT: Crush Boone / The Tico Times

Fifty years ago, there were at least 20 cacao plantations that supported Costa Rica’s economy. Today, most of that land is clear-cut cattle pasture. The Caribbean replanted the loss of cacao trees with banana plantations. Many of the locals told me they boycott Dole and La Chiquita bananas because of their pesticide use that is harming locals.

Eighty percent of cacao crop was lost in the 1970s.

CREDIT: Crush Boone / The Tico Times

The center is a healthy cacao bean, while the others are infected with the monilia fungus. European colonizers responded by planting cacao in Africa, which now produces more than 70 percent of the world’s cacao’s lesser variety, half of which come from conflict zones.

Costa Rica is leading the genetic research to find a fungus-protected strain of cacao.

CREDIT: PatMc7 / TripAdvisor

They are testing Costa Rica’s known strains of cacao against the murilio fungus and offering the strongest strains to local farmers.

My parting advice to you: go to Puerto Viejo and buy seven times as much chocolate as you think you need.

CREDIT: Whitney M. / TripAdvisor

These small plantations have their own varieties of cacao that produce distinctly different flavors. Go to Caribbeans and taste test chocolate from the 15 plantations that have cropped up in the last decade or so. You’ll find a favorite.


READ: You’ll Never Look At Chocolate The Same Once You Find Out Its Brutal History

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Chicago’s Mi Tocaya Is Offering Up Free Mexican Homemeals For Undocumented Community

Culture

Chicago’s Mi Tocaya Is Offering Up Free Mexican Homemeals For Undocumented Community

mitocaya / Instagram

Undocumented communities are being left out of Covid relief plans. Chef Diana Dávila of Mi Tocaya in Chicago is working to help undocumented restaurant worker in the time of Covid. Abuse of undocumented workers is rampant in certain industries and Chef Dávila hopes to offer some kind of help.

Mi Tocaya is a Mexican restaurant in Chicago’s Logan Square that wants to help the community.

Covid-19 has devastated the hospitality industry with restaurants being hit exceptionally hard. Restaurants have been forced to close their doors for good as the virus dragged on with no decent relief plan from the federal government. As several countries financially support citizens to avoid economic disaster, the U.S. government has given citizens $1,800 total to cover 10 months of isolating and business closures.

Namely, Mi Tocaya is working to help the undocumented community.

Mi Tocaya, a family-run restaurant, is teaming up with Chicago’s Top Chefs and local non-profits Dishroulette Kitchen and Logan Square Neighborhood Association. The goal is to highlight the issues facing the undocumented community during the pandemic.

The initiative called Todos Ponen, is all about uplifting members of our community in a time of severe need. The restaurant is creating healthy Mexican family meals for those in need.

”We asked ourselves; How can we keep our doors open, provide a true service to the community, maintain and create jobs, and keep the supply chain intact by supporting local farmers and vendors. This is the answer,” Chef Dávila said in a statement. “I confidently believe The TODOS PONEN Logan Square Project addresses all of the above and can very well be easily implemented in any community. Our goal is to bring awareness to the lack of resources available to the undocumented workforce- the backbone of our industry.”

The initiative starts in February.

Mi Tocaya is offering 1000 free meals for local farmers and undocumented restaurant workers. The meals are available for pickup Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 2800 W Logan Blvd, Chicago, IL 60647. to make this happen, Mi Tocaya also needs your help.

The restaurant has teamed up with two nonprofits to make sure that they can scale their operation to fulfill their commitment. They are also asking for donations to make sure they can do what they can to help undocumented restaurant workers.

According to Eater LA, 8 million restaurant workers have been laid off since the pandemic started. Some restaurants have had to lay off up to 91 percent of their staff because of Covid, about 10 percent of those are undocumented. In the cities, that number is as high as 40 percent of the laid-off restaurant staff are undocumented.

“People don’t want to talk about the undocumented workforce, but they’re part of our daily routine in most restaurants,” Jackson Flores, who manages the operations of Mi Tocaya, said in a statement. “They are in the toughest position in the whole economy because they’re an invisible part of it. Restaurant worker advocacy groups have added the creation of relief funds to their agendas, but there have yet to be long-term changes in protections for undocumented workers. Without access to unemployment benefits and other government resources, this group is especially vulnerable.”

READ: Hands-Free Cholula Dispensers Have Become a Thing In Restaurants Because of COVID-19

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From TV-less Weekdays To Cereal Bowls, People Are Sharing The Strangest House Rules

Culture

From TV-less Weekdays To Cereal Bowls, People Are Sharing The Strangest House Rules

James Leynse / Getty

If you’ve ever spent the night at someone else’s home, you know that there are people in the world who have house rules that can be very different from your own. From rules about drinking all of your milk cereal to not raising the volume of the television to a hearable level, different households have them all. Now, some of these crazy house rules are being shared in the comments section of an AskReddit. Not only are some of the stories and rules shared wild, some are also even a little sickening.

Check them out below!

“I had a friend who instead of washing the dishes after a meal just put them straight back in the cupboard. I thought his parents would freak out but it turns out it was just something they did in their house. Whenever I went over I always made sure to eat beforehand.” Reddit User

“Family who babysat me when I was young had a rule of “no drinking during meals” and I don’t just mean soda, juice or milk, no water until your meal is done. This was insane to me because we would be called in to supper/lunch after playing outside in the summer and weren’t allowed to drink anything until we sat down and finished our plates. Also, this rule didn’t apply to the father of the family who would often drink beer during meals.

My great-aunt had a parlor room in which all the furniture was covered in plastic and never used, it also had a plastic walkway going through the middle (just a strip of plastic cover) which was the only path you could walk on (she would flip out if you touched carpet).” –Random_White_Guy

“I wasn’t allowed to put extra salt on my food, had to be in bed by 8pm (all the way through middle school), and had to ride my bike to school everyday even though my best friends parents offered to take me.” –willwhit87

“No fighting over the heel of the bread. The father once off hand told his oldest children that the heel of a loaf of bread was the best and made them want it instead of the regular pieces. By the time there were 4 kids sometimes fist fights would break out over the heels. Loaves had been opened on both sides, or loaves were a mess because someone reached through the sack and pulled the back heel out. For a while there was a turn system where the heels were promised to a child for each loaf, but that fell apart when one went to summer camp and lost their turn. One time my friend wasted an afternoon waiting for his mother to come home with a fresh loaf of bread instead of going out and playing. I witnessed fist fights over the bread most people throw away.” –DarrenEdwards

“In college I had a friend that lived with his grandparents when he went to school. Before they’d let him leave the house his grandmother would say ‘nothing good happens after midnight’ and he would have to repeat it. If I was there, I would also have to repeat the phrase.” –iownalaptop

“I slept over a friends house in grade school one time. He prepared us a bowl of cereal the next morning for breakfast. Not thinking ANYTHING of my behavior, I didn’t finish the milk. I just never used to. I don’t know.

He was like “You uh…gonna finish that?”

“Uhhh oh…I uh…I don’t think so? Does that matter?”

He panicked. Absolutely panicked. I think he put it down the toilet before his parents came back into the room.

I don’t know what the rule was, exactly, but FINISH YOUR MILK OR DIE would be my guess based on his reaction. I still feel bad about it. I was like 8 and didn’t think.” –soomuchcoffee

“When I was a kid. I spent the night at one of my friends house. And you were allowed to drink a soda like sprite before bed. But you had to stir it till all the carbonation was gone.. Don’t ask me why…” –newvictim

“I had a friend in middle school, and his dad worked for Pepsi. No one was allowed to bring any Coke products into the house. The first time I went there his mom told me I could not come in the house because I had a Dr. Pepper. I thought she was joking and tried to walk in, but stopped me and said that if I don’t throw that in the garbage outside that I would have to leave. They were fucking serious about that shit.” – SlowRunner

“During college years, I used to visit my friend during summer months at his parents’ house, where he lived at that time. They had two odd “house rules” I’ll never forget:

  1. We couldn’t open any window in the house (even the bathroom window) – ever! Even if it was far cooler outside than inside during the summer.
  2. We weren’t allowed to close our bedroom doors at night, so that his parents’ cat could have free access to all rooms at all times. (This made it difficult to sleep, without a breath of air from the windows, and the cat walking over us in bed while trying to sleep.)” –Back2Bach

“I knew this family that would share the same bathwater as a means to cut down on their water bill. So when one person took a bath, they ALL took a bath that day. The waiting list was about 4-5 people deep. From what I understand, a lot of families do this, however, I just couldn’t see myself washing off in someone else’s soapy leftovers =( If that were the case, I got first dibs on getting in the bathtub first lol”- __femme_fatale__

“My ex’s family would throw all their left over food over their balconey instead of putting in the trash can. I asked them why they did that, they replied it keeps bugs away……..and didnt think rotted food right outside their door would bring bugs.” –PimemtoCheese

“I had a friend whose mom required her to sit on the floor. Never a chair, couch, bed, or other piece of furniture. I went to her house once and sat down on her bed and she flipped out, made me get off it and spent several minutes smoothing the sheets to make it look flat again. I think her mom thought “kids are dirty” but the rule was in place even after bathing and wearing clean.” –knitasha

“Went over to a school-mates’s house for dinner when I was in elementary school…his mom cut everyone’s good into little tiny bites before giving you the plate and only let us eat with a spoon… Her oldest daughter apparently choked on something once when she was a teenager and it became a rule…even on hamburger and hotdog night.” –GRZMNKY

“I was doing a project with a classmate at her house and on our way to her house we stopped at a store and picked up some snacks. We did our schoolwork and then just kind of played and messed around while eating those snacks. Then her mom came home and lost her absolute shit about the snacks. It wasn’t so much that we had eaten them, it was because the snacks had crumbs that had contaminated their otherwise purified home.

My friend had to stop everything and vacuum the entire house to get every crumb of snack, then take the nearly empty vacuum bag, the empty snack bags, and the half-empty but “contaminated” bag of kitchen trash outside and ask one of the neighbors if she could put it in their garbage bin because not a crumb of that kind of food was allowed on the property in any form after sunset. My mom picked me up and as I was leaving they were doing some additional purification ritual and my friend was praying for forgiveness for having potentially defiled their home.

Turns out they were 7th Day Adventist and it was against their code or whatever to have leavened foods in their house/property during a certain period of time? I don’t remember the exact details, but I remember it was a pretty big thing about how every crumb had to be removed from the property ASAP.” – alexa-488

“My neighborhood friend and I would hang out almost every day of the summer. We would go out exploring in the woods with a bunch of our friends and would usually come back all muddy and tired. My friend was very nice and would offer me water and food. His parents would take those away from me if they saw me with them saying they were only for their children. He was always allowed to eat at our house yet I’d have to walk back if they started having any type of meal. The worst though was his next door neighbor who had a daughter our age and when we were hanging out we all got muddy (we were 10) the girls mom proceeded to take her daughter and my friend into her house to clean them up and told me I wasn’t allowed to enter and that I could use the hose. Some people just know how to ruin a kid’s self esteem.” –boomsloth

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