Food From My Childhood

My family left Mauritius for good in the early 1960’s.

They went to the UK, and soon assimilated into the British way of life…except for the cuisine, which they found strange and bland.

At home, they continued to cook Mauritian food, although back then, it was hard to find the ingredients – even garlic was a rarity!

They sought out Indian, West Indian, and Chinese grocers and market stalls, and adapted their recipes to what was available.

Some of the dishes I remember are:

La Soupe

A rich, thick vegetable soup. It was similar to minestrone, but more rustic-looking, with big chunks of very tender beef in it. The beef was first browned with onions and garlic, then cooked in a pressure cooker with water to tenderise it, before the vegetables and tomatoes were added. This also created the stock.

La Daube (pronounced “la dob”)

A thick stew of either: chicken, carrots and peas; beef and potatoes; or beef and cabbage, cooked in a tomato, onion, and garlic sauce, with bay leaves and thyme. This was served with rice.

Brown Lentils

Cooked to a thick soup-like consistency with onion, garlic, bay leaves and thyme, and served with rice (or bread!) and rougaille.

Rougaille

A thick, strong, tomato sauce with the usual herbs, and either beef, boiled eggs, sausages, black pudding, or fish. This was eaten as an accompaniment to a pulse dish with rice.

Cottage Pie

I’m sure it had a different name – but I don’t know it.

Made with tinned corned beef instead of mince, and – you guessed it – a thyme-infused tomato sauce – all topped with cheesy mashed potatoes, and finished off with a thick sprinkling of crushed Ritz biscuits (my grandmother’s preference over breadcrumbs), and then baked. This was served with a green salad.

Civet (pronounced “siveh”)

Like a thin rougaille, but with the addition of a big slurp of Martini Rosso (I think it was originally made with red wine, but my grandmother liked Martini!). Made with venison when available, otherwise, beef. It was served with deep fried potatoes, croutons, and a green salad.

Vegetable Salads

Made using thinly-sliced green beans, or chunks of choko, marrow, squash etc. A vinaigrette dressing and sliced red onion was added to the boiled and cooled vegetables, then left to marinate before serving.

The vinaigrette was made with white pepper, not black, which gave it a distinctive taste.

Potato Salad

Thickly-sliced potatoes, carrot, and beetroot, with red onion and boiled eggs, all in a vinaigrette dressing.

Roast Beef

My favourite.

The original recipe was very simple – poke holes in a roast, and push in a lot of garlic cloves. Add a little oil to a pressure cooker, and brown the meat well on all sides. Add water, salt and pepper, and cook till tender and practically falling apart. The liquid was then reduced, and the sliced beef placed in it to keep it moist. It was served with salads and fried potatoes, and always with homemade mayonnaise.

Over recent years, Alf has modified the recipe – brown the beef. Halfway through, add quartered onions, and allow these to brown also. Add whole garlic cloves. Add a beef stock cube dissolved in hot water, a big slurp of red wine, ground black pepper and salt. Add water to almost cover the beef. Once cooked, strain the liquid, add more red wine and reduce it. Thicken it with flour mixed with water to make a rich gravy.

We now eat it with roast potatoes and pumpkin, carrots in parsley butter, green beans in tomato sauce, and cauliflower cheese. And horseradish cream for me. Yum! But not very Mauritian!

I’m sure there were a lot of other things I ate as a child, but I’ve forgotten them. Or maybe I didn’t like them in the first place so ate a sandwich instead!

Restaurants Today

I find that most restaurants offering Mauritian cuisine focus on Chinese dishes and curries (Mauritian curries are never hot – chilli is always served on the side).

Rougaille is usually called Creole Sauce, and often has Indian spices in it instead of the fresh flavour of thyme. Ditto for la daube. My grandmother is probably spinning in her grave!

Restaurants with Creole chefs tend to be truer to the original recipes.

The other dishes I’ve described aren’t offered (though you will occasionally be given a small dish of lentils as an accompaniment to curries).

The French influence has all but disappeared, and in most restaurants, exists in name only.

Also, I’m guessing that tenderising meat in a pressure cooker has gone out of vogue, because a lot of restaurants serve pretty tough and chewy meat (ditto for octopus).

Don’t get me wrong, I like curries – especially squid curry – but I think that there’s also a place for the food of my childhood.

Home Cooking

Over the past few years, we’ve been invited to eat at a lot of people’s homes – in general, Creole’s still cook the sort of food I remember, and Hindus and Muslims tend to cook mainly Indian food.

A lot of Mauritians seem to have forgotten the old recipes – our ex-landlady (who is a Creole) makes la daube with a packet she buys at the supermarket called La Daube Spices. There are NO spices in la daube, Nadege – just herbs!!!!!

But like my family, Mauritians who emigrated a long time ago have stuck to the old recipes.

So if you ever get invited to eat at a Mauritian’s house overseas, you might well get a taste of how things used to be. Ask if roast beef’s on the menu!

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6 thoughts on “Food From My Childhood

  1. At least in the early years you could still get the required vegetables, herbs and spices from either Pakistani or West Indian shops, depending on where you lived in UK. Mauritian cuisine seems to have evolved with time. I suppose due to other influences and trends dishes no longer really reflect the original, however, they retain the main ingredients.

    • I am Brish living in Costa Rica 22 yeas TALK about BLAND food! I have to cook in unless I go to one og the many upscale Foreign restaurants. I expected here to be like Mexican Food NOT even close maaily bland rice and beans with a piece of TOUGH beeef or chop or greasy chiken with the plate of the day.
      I owned a restaurant in Hollyweird California,,became a habg out for MANT famous Brit celebities and Musicians who MISSED ENGLISH CUISIN!E
      Yep evm Julian Lennon and Rod Stewart toname JUST a couple …But back to “Bland food” BUT Whomever said ENGLISH food was BLAND was eating ,as many foreigners do in restauarants NOT owned my TRUE Brits but by MANY
      foeiein owners there who ATTEMPT to cook our delicious food and IF we EVER BOILED BEEF a opposed to ROASTING (Like American Thanksgiving ) our sunday luches a FEAST ..but BOINING YIKES sounds IRISH No Offence to me Irish friends but they do corn beef and cabbage well cos it also id=s BOILED like yours sems to be ..cannot fathom an English Roast 9be if Beef,Pork.Goose, Chicken atc UNLES slow roasted in the oven then with roast potatoes sweeet potatoes and YES GArLIC..and other veg..amd on the side a GREEN veg or salad and DELICIOUS GRAVY made from the drippings of the roast and herbs added ..NOw WHO can say THAT would be BLAND..I catered for the VERY Famous English host of US TV “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” Robin Leach ..because in USA he CRAVED GOOD Brit food, and he could have FREE catering if it was cooked correctly ( just for the restaurants publicity for Robins parties (who by the way often ordered my “Bangers and mash” , mushy peas and my famous Brit Gravy..Yes Hate to brag BUT I was voted BEST Croissants in Los Angeles ..
      Now Before all the French readers do like they did inL.A. and get their knickers in a knot hehe THEY must learn that the FRENCH did NOT invent the croissant ..the AUSTRIANS did (Long Story I (as told on USA T.V talk shows )
      John Lennons son wrote on one of the many 8×10 photos wit me on the Wall of fame “No one makes gravy like Debbie makes Gravy ) and I am sure he Juian lennon has tasted a few gravies )
      I am not tooing my horn because to me ALL my English friends and family cook as well as I do if not better. I am just trying to prove a point with clients CRAVING ENGLISH FOOD
      3 years in a row I have hosted NOT cheap) for the 5th wealthiest man in Costa Rica our usual Christmas Stuffed Turkey with all ythe trimmings and home made cranberry sauce (and of course brandy smothered trifle for desert( mmmmm MY mouth is now WATERING … cooked for 20 of his Costa Rican Friends who thought also that English food was yuk until they ate so much here they could hardly walk to their cars LOL. I don’t usually answer these blogs ..but when it comes to English misunderstood food ..Next time ask to meet the owner of London Cafes & restauarants…
      ..you will maybe meet a Greek. a Pakitsani, or Indian, German, or? anyone but not a Limey…
      I was thinking of checking out interesting places since I have just closed my B&B of 22 years in Costa Rica, I MAY sell it too big for me 3 houses 3 apts and 3 acres… accidently fpund your site on ex pats BUT they want $40,00 per year to spend my money so doubt if I will move there. Like your blogs BUT WHERE in the Heck is That island?? dont you have a worldmap??
      Thanks for letting me ramble and anyone visiting come and dine at my place for ENGLISH FOOD the REAL McCoy..
      Cheers
      Debbie

      • Hi Debbie – you’ve certainly lived an exciting life so far! I didn’t say that today’s English food is bland – back in the sixties my family thought it was, as they were used to spices and chillies etc. I was born in the UK, grew up in Australia, and married an Irish guy, so believe me – we eat a lot of English food! And the food in Costa Rica doesn’t just sound bland – it sounds gross – tough, fatty meat – ugh – it doesn’t bear thinking about! There’s one holiday destination crossed off my list!
        Mauritius is a tiny dot in the Indian Ocean to the right of Madagascar. We don’t even appear on some maps!
        Anyway, glad you’re enjoying the blog, and your food sounds great. Would you mind telling me how you make mushy peas? We were just talking about having some with a home-made meat pie and mash. Yum!
        Cheers
        Veronique

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