You know it’s hot outside when a “cold front” drops temperatures into the 90s.

After a week at the Baptist World Alliance meeting in Chile, where it’s winter and I needed a coat to venture outside the hotel, I returned Sunday to Raleigh’s record-setting 105 degree heat, the sixth day in a row of triple digits.

The heat reminded me of the best meal I had in Santiago, joining two delightful friends on a long walk to the Barrio Bella Vista section of town and a restaurant called Como Agua Para Chocolate — “Like Water for Chocolate.”

The restaurant decor was equal parts rustic, funky, and sultry — one table for six (top right in the picture) was made up to look like a bed. Both the food and its presentation were amazing: my “corvina al fuego” (sea bass flambeed with rum) was delectable, and other dishes looked even more impressive.

I had heard the expression “like water for chocolate” before, but its meaning wasn’t self-evident: I had tried to imagine what it would mean to substitute water for chocolate, which didn’t sound particularly positive, or like something you’d hang on a restaurant.

With a little research, I learned that “like water for chocolate” is a Hispanic expression that basically means “hot,” often in a sensual way — hence the restaurant’s claim to have a “cocina magica afrodisiaca” (magical aphrodisiac cuisine).

In Central and South America, hot chocolate is not made with milk and powdered cocoa, but with hot water and blocks of sweetened chocolate. “Like water for chocolate” describes the point at which the water is hot enough to receive and melt the chunks of chocolate.

I enjoyed chocolate caliente several times on cold days in Chile, including a nice thick mug of it while in the ski village of Farellones, where it was the perfect complement to a cold day.

Back at home, I was happier getting reaquainted with a frigid can of Diet Mountain Dew, because the atmosphere alone could melt a chocolate bar in a heartbeat.

One of the things I like best about travel is that it reminds me how big the world is: how different it can be in some ways, and how similar in others. And one of the special things about the annual BWA gathering is that when we come together from around the globe, so many of our differences melt away in a warm celebration of a common faith.

Like water for chocolate.


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