Chocolate and Baroque by Moonlight in Modica

On my way to dinner in Modica, a picturesque, Baroque town built in a valley in southeastern Sicily, I discovered The Antica Dolceria Bonajuto. Tucked into a small side street, it’s the oldest chocolate shop in Sicily and uses a secret, centuries old Aztec recipe. The only ingredients are unprocessed cacao (still containing cocoa butter), sugar and spices. There is no butter, milk or other additives.

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While waiting in line at the counter, I tasted what the Aztecs called xocolatl: both plain and with different spices added: ginger, salt, hot peppers, vanilla, cinnamon, orange, etc.
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The Spanish brought chocolate to Modica when they ruled Sicily in the seventeenth century. Sicilians quickly adopted the Aztec tradition of grinding the cocoa beans with a kind of stone rolling pin, mixing in sugar and spices, then, laying the pasty substance out on a “metate” (stone surface) to harden. In other parts of Europe, the process of making chocolate became industrialized, but not here. You can watch the chocolate being made as you order at the counter.

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Franceso Ruta founded the shop in 1880, and it is now owned by his great-great grandson, Franco Ruta, who runs it with his son, Pierpaolo. I guarantee that the chocolate is worth a trip to Modica, which is fascinating in its own right. After seeing so many Italian hill towns, I was surprised to find the Modica is built on two sides of a deep valley. The main street runs right down the middle.

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All of the architecture is Baroque because in 1693, a severe earthquake mostly leveled it and killed over 2,000 people. Out of the ruins of what had been, the townspeople rebuilt with one consistent architectural style. I arrived around sundown and mostly toured the town by the light of the moon.

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Except on the main street, everything is either up or down.
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The narrow, winding streets were silent. Modica has tourists, but it is still authentically itself.
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I walked up to the stunning Cathedral of Saint George, nibbled on some of my chocolate, and headed for the car. I know I’ll be back soon.
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