Mohammad Somji’s return from his international trips were always a sweet memory for his family. His arrival of course contributed to the sweetness, but also because he’d come laden with gourmet chocolates, reminisces his son Abbas Somji.
‘Dad has always loved chocolate and he’d seek out fine chocolates from Europe since they were hard to come by here in Dubai during the eighties,’ says Abbas. The UAE-based businessman who runs a promotional products firm would constantly be besieged with enquiries from corporate organisations about branding chocolates. ‘But he wanted to do something special and unique with chocolates,’ explains Abbas. It is that desire that led to the birth of the chocolaterie Chocovana in 2015.
In the last four years, the Dubai-based store has been fulfilling its founder’s childhood passion but also pleasing multitudes of couples with their bespoke wedding chocolate collections.
The store’s artisan chefs, graphic designer and the father-son duo of Mohammad and Abbas custom-make chocolates for newlyweds, right from the packaging to moulding it into shapes and imbuing it with colours and flavours.
Abbas tells us more about how the store lives up to its blissful moniker – a portmanteau of the words chocolate and nirvana – and why chocolate is the all-rounder of wedding trends:
What kind of custom-made chocolate do you offer?
We do unique items where the chocolates take the shape of whatever it is a client needs – we’ve done a controller for a PlayStation launch, and for weddings we have created generic chocolate bride and groom figures in traditional wedding attire for different cultures. We brand chocolates with a couple’s logos, initials or designs and we customise the packaging as well. We also develop unique flavours for chocolate fillings, from paan masala to matcha.
What role do chocolates play in weddings now?
Chocolates have evolved beyond being simple wedding favours. They’re kept as centrepieces on tables at functions, given as an accompaniment to invites. My sister chose to imprint her ‘save the date’ on a chocolate bar and hand it to her friends personally. It’s all about out-of-the box creativity. Our chocolate figurines have been used as edible cake toppers, and we’ve created a food menu that was made out of a chocolate bar and doubled up as a thank-you note from the couple. We’ve also had save-the-date chocolates shaped like a clapper board used on film sets.
Why are these chocolate invites and save-the-dates popular?
In the four years Chocovana has been around, we’ve noticed that couples want guests to be wowed by the invite instead of just throwing it away after a glance. That’s hard to achieve with e-vites on WhatsApp. So sending cards along with something sweet to accompany them or making cards out of chocolate make it memorable and the guests get to engage and be a part of the wedding from that moment.
How is chocolate now a part of weddings where traditionally it isn’t?
Take Indian weddings, for example; there’s a shift now from traditional mithais to chocolates. It’s not about changing the tradition but about keeping the tradition alive as they’re still giving something sweet along with the invitation.
The reasons for straying away from mithai might be many but the main one is that you can’t customise them. Sometimes, the boxes with the chocolates we create feature dry fruits, which are also a traditional gift.
Do different nationalities have different requirements of chocolates?
In terms of the packaging, yes. Indian weddings have requested us to incorporate a silver coin as a gift into the chocolate box’s packaging. But people generally like the same flavour profiles. It mainly depends on the trend of the city. We’ve done Emirati, Indian and Chinese weddings and they’ve all had similar tastes.
What flavours and varieties of chocolate are popular?
Famous fillings right now are those made of Lotus biscuits – it’s a craze in Dubai and everyone wants it. We carry fruity fillings made of berries – these are an acquired taste though and not everyone enjoys them. But since chocolates are given as gifts and need to be palatable to the recipients, the bestselling flavours are hazelnut, Lotus biscuits, coffee, plain milk chocolate and 55-70 per cent dark chocolate.
What if couples want to send chocolate invites abroad to family and friends, or they’re having a destination wedding and their gifts need to be shipped?
International shipping can be a hurdle, which is why we’ve opened a company in Mumbai. We have and still do send chocolates to Europe and places such as Bali and Hong Kong. We can walk the couple through every step, brief them on how to care for the chocolate and ensure it’s packed properly to survive the journey. A British couple who got married at the Burj Al Arab gave their guests return gifts of chocolates featuring edible 2D renderings of the Burj. The chocolates survived both the Dubai heat and the journey to the UK.
What’s the shelf life for these?
Our chocolates are made fresh, so you can keep them for a year or even longer. My wife’s grandmother still hasn’t eaten the chocolates we gave her at our wedding three years back because she said they’re too pretty to eat!
How long does it take to create these chocolates?
Actual production time takes anywhere from 10 days to two weeks, depending on quantity. We do computer-generated mock-ups to show the couple what it’s going to look like. While we do specialise in last-minute orders, it’s always better to place your order at least a month before you need them.