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Gina Verdolaga

Not long ago, an oily sales executive invited me to have dinner with him at a French restaurant. To start off the meal, he ordered a plate of escargot. When it came, he tried to entice me into tasting some, saying they were a fine example of afrodaisies. Huh? Visions of white and yellow flowers with bushy hairdos danced in my head. Finally, it dawned on me that my date was talking about aphrodisiacs. Since I don't like snails in whatever form ("slimy suckers", as Julia Roberts says of them in Pretty Woman), I politely declined the gastronomic experience.

Aphrodisiacs in international cuisine come in many forms - from mussels to pine nuts to feta cheese. These types of food purportedly possess magic qualities of taste and texture that inspire intense desire, sexual appetite and potency. And what is the best aphrodisiac of them all? It's chocolate. Well, all right, it is a myth but it's not difficult to believe that it's true. Chocolate has a chemical called phenylethylamine, which is practically identical to the substance manufactured in the brain of an infatuated person. The rush of sweetness when you bite a piece of chocolate gives one an instant jolt of pleasure. Your heartbeat quickens, your head dissolves into a blissful dream and your hand reaches out for…another piece.

Connoisseurs of chocolate will argue the merits of bittersweet chocolate over milk or white chocolate, cream, fruit or wine-filled truffles. Size and shape of chocolate also matter, not to mention the packaging of the boxes they come in. The subject itself can arouse conflicting passions. Yet to my mind, the simplest type of chocolate is the best. I need not purchase expensive Swiss chocolates to tickle my private fantasies. All I need is Chocnut.

Yes, Chocnut, the sweet staple of my childhood, a simple concoction of peanuts, milk, cane sugar, cocoa powder and flavoring. What joy it evoked to know that I had a secret stash of Chocnut in my school bag or desk - not to be shared of course, for that would destroy the thrill.

There are different ways of eating Chocnut: you can break it into smaller blocks or divide it lengthwise. The challenge is not to crumble it in the process. If you're in a hurry, you can swallow the whole rectangle. But you risk possible choking because its texture allows it to stick to your throat. You can chew it or let it sit inside your mouth and wait for it to melt. Since that would take a while, you can shift it around with your tongue and scrape it off your teeth. That way, you can savor the peanut grains better. Any crumbs left inside the foil can be reshaped with your thumb and forefinger into an edible mass, or you can more efficiently take care of any remainders by licking the foil. The foil is plain silver but occasionally, it can come in shiny green, red and blue colors during the holiday season.

I always try to bring Chocnut as pasalubong (gifts) for my Filipino friends and relatives who live abroad. They usually respond with a cry of delight as they wolf the chocolate down and share their happy memories about it. Curiously, this delicacy is not easy to find. Sometimes, I have to go to the palengke (wet market) or selected native restaurants if I need several packs.

Beware of imitations, though. Once, I got fooled by similar packaging and the word "Nut" printed across the plastic pack. When I tasted the chocolate, however, I gagged at the damp texture and spat it out. Chocnut is dry and only sticks together when it's inside your mouth. (Any allusion or metaphorical link I leave entirely up to the reader, but there's no other way to describe the Chocnut experience.) After eating only two pieces, the pleasure generated is truly akin to a love buzz.

Forget the fancy oyster dish, crushed pearl powder, Spanish fly, olives, strawberries, onions, ginseng, Vitamin E, or--get this--green M&Ms. Chocnut does it for me.

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