Treat your senses to a cacao blast in HCMC’s new downtown chocolate factory.
Step inside any one of Saigon’s array of trendy cafés and, chances are, you’ll see a basket containing bundles and bars of curiously wrapped chocolate.
Look a little closer, though, and you’ll see that this is a lot more than just another tasty treat. Meet Marou: the brand that’s bringing something wholly Wonka to the sweet-toothed of Saigon, sourced from and made in Vietnam.
This, though, is not news to those who call the city – and several others across the globe – home. Marou has been manufacturing its art deco bars – replete with ubiquitous “wallpaper” wrapping – for several years.
What is new, however, is Maison Marou: a chocolate emporium which has just opened its doors on Calmette, allowing the intoxicating aroma of warm cacao to drift out into the street, just steps away from Ben Thanh market.
Enter this factory-of-sorts and, if you’re a lover of the sweet stuff, you’ll struggle not to exit a few Dong lighter, and several pounds heavier.
Welcomed by a member of the Maison team, all of whom possess an unusually happy disposition – and, with all that chocolate to be tasted and tested, it’s easy to see why – newbies are immediately swept into a free tour of this cacao kingdom.
Wandering around the brightly painted pad, we’re shown the sacks in which Marou transports its locally-sourced beans; the antique bean grinder that stands proudly in the entrance; the melting and mixing process; and, finally, the quality control and hand-wrapping process – all of which go on behind glass panels, permitting coffee-sipping punters a privileged aspect upon the delicate preparation of their delicious products.
From cheesecakes to mousses to all sorts of treats, Marou blends its scrumptious stuff into more than just bars – as is easy to see when watching a skilled chocolatier piping delightfully dark dollops onto slices of creamy cake.
In fact, as our guide explains, there’s no dearth of creativity in Marou’s chocolate making: from dark blends to coconut creations; chilli infusions to aromatic orange; this is quirky work, in the most moreish of manners.
Whilst those familiar with the Marou wagon parked outside – a decades-old, cream four-by-four which wouldn’t look out of place on an African plain – will know the style of this sugary extravaganza, they might not be so familiar with just how many iterations of its blissful bars exist.
One look at the Maison’s wall of shelves leaves no doubt as to the scale of the Marou range (some of which is exclusive to the store): here there are treats for every taste.
From bars to boxes to bundles, the branding here is as stylishly unique as the edible pleasures it promotes. Rub a thumb along the textured paper and just try to not be tempted into a purchase which will tip your nutritionist into a tirade (and your tastebuds into heaven).
Not sure which to pick? The staff are more than happy to help, whilst the dangerously delicious tasters might just swing your decision. And, if you really need time to reflect, you can always grab a coffee and a cake – containing chocolate, of course – over which to consider.
And, if that isn’t enough to convince you to make a trip to Marou’s aromatic cacao palace, then perhaps you don’t deserve a golden ticket, after all.
For more information about Marou and its new location, head to maisonmarou.com
WORDS & IMAGES BY CHRIS ROWLANDS