Here is a story the edited version of which appeared in Deccan Herald, Bangalore, today.
Bhajiyas in Mauritius
Mauritius is indeed a pretty island state, that was easy to see right from day one when we had gone there for a family holiday. What came as a complete surprise was the cuisine of place, so very Indian!
Nearly two-thirds of the population of Mauritius is of Indian origin, all descendants of indentured labourers shipped out by the British colonists to work in the sugarcane fields around 200 years ago. Most of these labourers came from Bihar and Eastern parts of UP. Through sheer grit these labourers dropped anchor in the island, got rid of their colonial masters and now they rule the country!
Over the centuries, the Indo-Mauritians have preserved their religion, culture and language (official language: French). And even the cuisine, right till the combination of spices.
The Sunday flea market in Quatre Bornes is as good a place if any to sample the snack foods of the Indo-Mauritians. Missing home food? No worries! Make your way to the countless stalls fronted with large grubby glass cases displaying their wares. Bhajiyas anyone? Rs 2 for each, take a bite and let the spices and the aromas waft through! Bhajiyas made from brinjal slices dunked into besan batter. Or may be mirchi bhajias? Buy one for Rs 2 and taste the heavenly dish. Bhajiyas are hugely popular here and are known as “baja“. Samosa is what you will not get here, but you will certainly get their diminutive version, the “samoussa“. As greasy and as inviting as ever as you can get at your favourite chaat shop back home in India! But the real fast mover has to be the spicy pakoda, so delicately christened gateaux piment (French for chilli cakes)! Seven spicy ones for Rs 10 and no sooner you are done with one pack of the gateaux piment, you reach out for another!
Should you prefer to have something more filling move on to the other stall, have some biryani (called “Briyani“) or have some roti instead. But the real winner is the soft dal-powder filled poori, a foot in diameter and as thin as a sheet of paper, soft-as-silk texture and a complete melt-in-the-mouth delicacy. Those from North India would recognize it as dalpoori. (For the others, consider it is a salt-plus-spice version of puran poli). Dalpoori is elegantly spelled as dholl puri,or even d’holl puri making it sound like something from the south of France but actually has its origins in the heartland of Bihar. Here we are at this stall called Chez Navin (literal meaning, house of Navin). Navin serves us dalpoori on handkerchief sized sheets of thin white paper with a ladleful of aloo-ki-sabzi and spicy chutney. And of course, it was difficult to stop at just one serving! Rs 8 for a Dalpoori. What a bargain!
Eating done, now proceed to Gopal and Sons next door for some liquid nourishment. Gopal sells just three items, “Jus Limon”, “La Mousse Noire” (black jelly drink) and “Alouda”. We decide to skip the nimbu paani and the jelly drink and settle for “Alouda” which I am sure must be the national drink of Mauritius. A cold refreshing concoction of milk, water, ice and strands of semiyan-like ingredient is just what you need after the heavenly snacks. Just Rs 15 vierre (glass). A liter of this sinfully delicious stuff must surely be strongly intoxicating, but we had much business left unfinished and we decided to stay contented with just a glassful.
And how can you not have sugarcane juice while at Mauritius. At the Caudan Waterfront we helped ourselves to glassfuls of fresh juice, Siro Pike (sugar cane juice) as the locals call them! Choice of ginger flavour and lemon flavour!
Even at the European tourist oriented hotel we were staying there was was this ubiquitous paratha (called faratta by the locals) served with sabji for both breakfast and dinner buffets amidst all the European food stuff.
Home food, anyone? Head to Mauritius!