To bring the cliche forth, each and every habitant of Mauritius has the Alooda in his/her DNA … sounds cheeky, right?
Alouda is a Mauritian drink made with milk, evaporated milk, sugar, agar agar (grass jelly) and basil seeds. It is sweet, but cold and refreshing, and the agar agar and basil seeds make it a little “slimey-chewy” which makes it feel like a little meal in itself. You can buy Alouda in the supermarket, but the best way is to get it straight from a street vendor, specially in the central market in Port Louis. The most common flavours are vanilla, plain and almond. I prefer plain vanilla. At some places, it will be “assembled” on the spot whereas others are in big containers. It is generally assembled in front of you, and topped with a generous dollop of vanilla ice cream. A posh milkshake looks pale in front of this street wonder food.
Discovering new things, learning new knowledge is always of value, for me at least. I am fortunate enough to have a vast circle of interests and to hold them in high regard. It wasn’t always like that. Even I had my times were I lived in a narrow mind, eyes shut, praising only the commercial, “cool”world. Eski, Coke, Sprite, and Fanta rated high in my cooling beverages list. However, there were the Saturdays when I had to accompany Mother to the ‘Gran Bazar’ for the week’s green grocery shopping. It would always end at Anay’s shop of ‘Alouda’… or rather he would hail us persistently to stop and have a glass. For me it was laways an embarassment to stand in the moving hectic crowd, all sweaty and red at the cheeks to take in the mega tall glass ice chilly Alouda, realising that having a sudden brain freeze from rushing the drinking did not arrange matters.
One needs to take his time to savour this devilishly delicious refreshing drink which transports you in an instant to an unknown world of sweetness, milkiness, coolness, when the cream and the rose grass jelly throttle down your throat in an ecstatic explosion. Annay kept a close watch, he would top our glass as soon as it was mid empty. Such was his love to please, and share his highly rated Alouda. He almost revered Mother, so I got many top ups. Annay sadly passed away, now his son has taken over the Pillay shop.
But what created the wonder of the Alooda were the tiny black seeds we call ‘tookmaria’ in Mauritius. They are basil seeds which are present in every household and dirt cheap. As the mercury goes up, we would soak those seeds and drink chilled toukmaria glasses of water to ward off the heat.
What I didn’t know for a while was that in south Asia it was common to use the seeds in foods and when health issues would occur (digestion problems). Interestingly those seeds are not just simple grains. Add them into some drinking water and you will witness a strange change. After just a minute in the water, a transparent jelly layer “grows” around the black seed which might remind one of tapioca. They are jelly outside and crunchy inside. One could easily fool somebody by pretending those where frog spawns. I am not sure if the same works with the common Basil like the one in Europe but there seem to be different types and sizes with some having more jelly around them then others. Nowadays, many are calling it the Chia seeds with the label of a wonder food. But from what I know, the Chia seeds looks much smaller …
On a second thought, what if both were related? Could the Mauritian have been drinking a wonder drink for centuries now not knowing about its properties? Could it be why the country achieved so much without having any natural resources …? How they kept cool under a tropical sun in a multi-ethnic mix ?. Matter to be reflected upon.