Belgian Embassy Marks Koningsdag with Sumptuous Chocolate Celebration
By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
When it comes to chocolate, Belgium knows a thing or two.
Considered by most chocolatiers and connoisseurs as the premiere source of quality cacao-based candies in the world, the European country’s close affiliation with chocolate dates back to the 17th century.
Today, Belgium’s exclusive chocolates — internationally renowned for the stringent quality controls and exquisite flavor blends — accounts for more than 11 percent of global exports of the confectionary, with nearly 650 tons of chocolate products annually, valued at more than $2.5 billion.
So it seemed only natural that Belgium should be invited to attend Mexico’s 11th Annual Chocolate Festival in Tabasco this week as the international guest of honor. (Tabasco is Mexico’s cacao capital, producing 70 percent of the nation’s total yearly output of 27,000 tons.)
And since Mexico was the original source of the culinary gift of cacao to the world, Belgian Ambassador to Mexico Johan Verkammen, who happened to be celebrating his country’s Koningsdag (King’s Day) this week anyway, decided that using the occasion to highlight the delicious bond between the two nations would not only underscore the close political and economic bilateral ties, but also showcase the two-way cultural and historic links.
And so, on Monday, Nov. 14, in an early observance of the national holiday (which actually falls on Nov. 15 and has been observed by Belgium since 1866, commemorating the country’s first king, Leopoldo), Verkammen and his wife, Kathleen Billen, offered a diplomatic reception at their Lomas de Chapultepec residence dedicated to the theme “Belgium, the Chocolate Heart of Europe.”
“For Belgian embassies around the world, Koningsdag is traditionally a day when we get closer to our friends abroad, to you, to the authorities who so kindly welcome us, to our colleagues in the diplomatic corps and to all those people with whom we feel linked thanks to their activities, their achievements and their friendship,” Verkammen said, before inviting his guests to a sumptuous smorgasbord of chocolate confits.
“In particular, King’s Day is a time when we like to highlight our excellent relations with Mexico.”
The ambassador went on to outline some of the growing ties that unite Mexico and Belgium today, including in the commercial and economic spheres.
With accumulated capital holdings of nearly $20 billion, Belgium is currently Mexico’s fourth-largest investor among European Union nations, and its seventh-largest EU trade partner.
“Just last week, another Belgian trade mission arrived in Mexico; 25 companies enjoyed a week full of business-to-business meetings organized by our commercial attaches,” he said.
“This not only speaks of the dynamism of Belgium’s foreign trade — we are the world’s 10th-largest exporter in absolute figures — but also attests to the great opportunities that Mexico has to offer as a trading partner.”
Verkammen pointed out that binational commercial cooperation has recovered significantly since the end of the covid-19 pandemic, with an increase of more than 30 percent in both directions over the course of the last 12 months.
The envoy, speaking in fluent Spanish, also noted that most Mexicans associate four “Cs” with Belgium: the city of Bruges, Carlota (the wife of one-time Austrian Emperor of México Maximillian), beer (which, in Spanish, is “cerveza”) and, yes, that tastiest of all Belgian products, chocolate.
“This year we feel very honored and excited that Belgium is the guest country at the famous Tabasco Chocolate Festival,” he said.
“Tabasco, the state of the Olmecs, was the cradle of chocolate.”
Verkammen said that Belgium has arranged for seven award-winning Belgian chocolatiers, as well as Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo’s personal chef, Kwinten de Paepe, to attend the festival, which is slated to open in Villahermosa, Tabasco, on Wednesday, Nov. 16.
Verkammen also took the opportunity to speak about the ongoing war in Ukraine.
“As we gather today, let us pause to think about the ongoing war in Europe and the terrifying reality that diplomacy could not stop Russia from brutally invading its neighbor, killing thousands of innocent civilians,” he said.
“I take this opportunity to reiterate my country’s unequivocal solidarity with the Ukrainian people.”
Notably, among the guests at the event were Ukrainian Ambassador to Mexico Oksana Dramaretska, as well as former President of the Mexican Senate Olga Sánchez Cordero, who paid an official visit to Brussels in June of this year, and Mexican Federal Deputy Santy Montemayor Castillo, president of the Mexico-Belgium Friendship Group.
Also present was Tabasco Tourism Secretary José Antonio Nieves Rodríguez.
Mexico and Belgium established formal diplomatic relations in 1838, although relations between the countries began two years earlier when Belgium — itself newly independent — recognized the independence of Mexico.
In 1954, Mexico and Belgium elevated that diplomatic relations to the level of resident chancelleries.