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Like a thin rougaille, but with the addition of a big slurp of Martini Rosso (I think it was originally made with red wine, but my grandmother liked Martini!).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!