A day in Port Louis, street food Galore!

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Markets in Mauritius are feasts for all senses. Hustle and bustle; vendors calling out their wares and prices in Creole; the smell of sweat, incense, salted fish and sweet pineapples; bargains and rip-offs. My favourite part of any market is the fresh fruit and vegetable section. Having grown up in Port Louis, I would know all the nooks and crannies of the place.

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I loved watching the symmetrically stacked plump, red tomatoes, green beans, big plum orange pumpkins, ‘margoze’, ‘pipengaille’, ‘callebasse’,  the piles of cassava; baskets full of herbs for making creole curry; and a multitude of other colourful things which add to the atmosphere and show the variety that the Mauritian consumes on a daily basis. Rice and baguette being the staple carbs, Mauritians cooks along 3 to 4 different vegetables for a single meal, along side might come the fried fish or the meat daube. Not to forget that no meal is complete without its ‘cravate’ as per the local adage – a chutney and pickle should always be present. My Brit husband now is used to it, and totally demands his coco chutney or a ‘chatini cotomili’, coriander and tomato chutney.

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The touristic parts of  market requires a wide berth though. The last thing you need is some vendor trying to convince you that you need a plastic dodo made in China, or a frilly sega dress for your child. A medley of Mauritian and Madagascan, Indonesian, Indian, African crafts await the naive tourist who can easily get ripped off, if not attentive. However, a large variety awaits you, if you are in for a search, the Mauritian travels a lot and is very entrepreneurial. Beware of the touts, unlike the passive shop owners, get your price from teh man behind the counter.

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The market in Port Louis is tourist heaven and hell at the same time. You will definitely get hustled here, but the fresh produce section is the best (and most photogenic) on the whole island. Unless you are looking to buy (and haggle for) cheap souvenirs, give the tourist section a miss. Instead, take your time soaking up the atmosphere in the large fruit and vegetable hall where the locals come to shop for dinner. If you can handle the smell of unrefrigerated, raw meat take a look in the various halls opposite the road from the vegetable section, each dedicated to a particular product (beef, goat, poultry, fish etc.).

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Textile used to be one of the Mauritian economy’s Three Pillars together with sugar and tourism. Although IT and commerce have now overtaken the traditional industries, there is still high quality clothes and textiles produced here that can be bought at real bargain prices. A block of several streets sell textiles at knock out prices. The only hic is finding a tailor in situ to match the bargain buy. Mauritians are used to get their curtains changed almost two or once each year for the New Year or some festival. Buying linen is a hobby, and getting your trousseau done is still prevalent, apart from the bride dresses made from scratch. Habberdashry shops would put your regular UK’s John Lewis departmental shops to shame by their variety and price.

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For a more hassle-free experience, take a stroll along the streets leading up to Chinatown and the Muslim quarters around Jumma Masjid (one of the largest mosques in Mauritius). The road between the Chinese gates (Royal Road, between Dr Joseph Riviere and La Paix streets) is mostly hardware shops but the side streets are bustling with little shops and stalls selling everything from roasted peanuts to Chinese medicine and Muslim prayer beads and (caps).

I love street food. Little bite-sized morsels that give you a real taste of the place that you are visiting. At the market, on a street corner or at the beach; anywhere you go in Mauritius you’ll find delectable snacks. With such a diverse population, you’ll always find something new and interesting. Here are some of my favourites:

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Chana Puri

This is a little deep fried dough ball, filled with lentils. If you want to (and I strongly recommend you do), the vendor will break it open and drizzle a chutney over it. . Street stalls that sell Chana Puri also sell all sorts of other deep fried snacks, go wild and taste one of each! An assortment of chutneys wre present for generous dousing, on your ‘dipain frire’ battered deep fried toast, samousa, ‘gato arouille’ yam fritters, ‘bajia’ plain fritters, ‘gato brizelle’ aubergine slices in batter and fried … delicious ! It is a regular affair for Mauritians who snack on them for a quick bite or afternoon tea. Not good if you are watching your waistline. But hey! you need to taste them for once!

Local Food Stall, Port Louis, Mauritius

Local Creole Food at a road side stall, Port Louis Market, Port Louis, Mauritius

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Boulettes

Similar to a Chinese dim sum, ‘boulettes’ are little dumplings made with fish, pork, vegetables or meat, served in a tasty broth and drizzled with spring onion and green chili paste. Sometimes, you also have the option of adding noodles. Another Chinese style food. More a full meal than a snack, but too good not to include here. You can chose between fried or boiled noodles (the fried ones are drier whereas the boiled ones are served in a broth), and then you select your ingredients (chicken, egg, beef etc.). Personally, I really like the vegetarian  made of chatotes called ‘saw mai’,  ‘mine frire’ fried noodles, ‘teo kon’ stuffed Tofu, and crispy wontons roughly complet the  Chinese street food tabelau. Not to forget the unmissable  dash of  homemade Chinese chili sauce (beware, the Mauritian chili is HOT). Drive to the beach, watch the turquoise lagoon, white crested waves, surfers, and sometimes dolphins…. isn’t this a good life?

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Gateaux Piments – Gato Pima

Another little deep fried snack, and probably one of the most famous ones. It’s a small  ball, made with ray chick pea paste, chili and herbs. Although the name means chili cake, they are not very hot but that can always be cured by dipping them in chili paste. Make sure you get them fresh and still warm, as they tend to get dry fairly quickly. My husband has become an afficionado now, and a ‘gato pima’ moment is always a happy moment in our home in the UK. Chilly Winters marry well with chilli fritters, ‘c’est bon pour le moral’ as we say in French. It is good for the mood, indeed true! Not me says so, but the doctors.

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My favourite beach snack! The Victoria pineapple is world famous for its fine flavour, I paid a fortune for one in an Asia store in France. Small, incredibly sweet Victoria pineapples are peeled and quartered, then doused with a chili sauce and drizzled with chili salt. The combination of sweet, hot and salty is phenomenal, and totally worth the red, burning lips you inevitably will have afterwards. Nevermind, just take a dip in the sea to rinse sticky fingers and cool down your lips!

The pickle vendor might also be selling  pickled mango, cucumber, and other tropical fruits along. Try them, they are a surprise !

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Di pain frire

‘Di pan frire’ served with tomato, coriander chilli paste is a favourite. The chilli paste is served with everything. I even had them in a Mauritian restaurant in Paris XI out of home sickness, they were phenomenal, and it seemed that they had a wide pool of followers by what I saw on the tables.

Can we finish by the no. 1 national street food ? The Dhal Puri. An institution in itself. It is a fine pancake made of flour and Gram Dhal with spices. It is baked upon the iron cast tawa and is completed by its filling consisted of ‘carri Gros Pois’ butter beans and potato curry, ‘Rougaille’ tomato sauce Mauritian style, an optional ‘carri Bredes Songes’ taro greens cooked in the callalou manner, ‘achard legumes’ mix vegetables pickles, green chilli chutney …. folded and eaten on the side of road, as it should not even get warm, it is best eaten hot ….. a blast !

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Here you go, …. apart from the Michelin starred Chefs who work for the 30 five stars,(Mauritius has the highest number of luxury 5-star hotels in the world) hotels of the island, displaying their culinary wonders to you, there is the best to be discovered on the streets of the island.

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Alooda or Falouda?

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To bring the cliche forth, each and every habitant of Mauritius has the Alooda in his/her DNA … sounds cheeky, right?

But True.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 …

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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.

Amen.

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Be a Vegetarian !

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Believe it or not, I don’t have long, unbrushed hair. I don’t don Birkenstocks through summer, sleet and snow.  I prefer hotels to camping, am not keen on picketing outside of fast food joints.

I do, however, eat a plant-based foods diet. I’m conscious of animal products and testing associated with my toiletries and household cleaners. And I do not participate in mindful activities such as yoga and meditation, and I can prepare tofu in thirty-plus ways.

Yes, I  follow a vegetarian lifestyle.

I’m not going to lecture you on why slaughterhouses are inhumane, why pigs are friends (not food), and explain why fur is akin to wearing a carcass on your back. But I will tell you (and recent media will back me up on this) vegetarianism is one of the foremost things we can do to help the planet. I am not alone in saying that maintaining animals for food is causing more havoc on the planet than anything else. Our land, water, and air quality are all at increased risk with more and more animal-based consumption.

This past January, the Globe and Mail published an article where they hypothesized that the global demand for meat is expected to double between 2001 and 2050. This staggering increase results in obvious animal suffering, but also creates an increase in global warming and environmental issues, and negatively impacts our health. The World Cancer Research Fund has published numerous studies on how limiting consumption of red meat and avoiding processed meats results in a lower risk of all cancers, notably bowel, breast, and prostate. Not only that, a vegetarian diet is low in cholesterol, which lowers chances of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments.

vegan-plantIn April of this year, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production issued a report, a fact-based, comprehensive, and balanced exploration into the farm animal industry (www.ncifap.org). It showed that manure produced by animal confinement facilities is three times that of human output. This manure makes its way into our water, soil, and air, containing pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, and heavy metals. Sure, we can control these in some areas; however, the utmost diligence will not protect us from it leeching into our water system, careening its way via transport of smog, and fertilized into our vegetables. Tests on air quality resulted in toxic answers: gasses and substances such as human pathogens are commonly found in the air we breathe.

Our water supply is also greatly affected by animal production. Between cleaning procedures and animal feed, the ratio equates to approximately 2500 gallons of water to 1 pound of meat; conversely, soy requires 250 gallons per pound of meat, and wheat 25 gallons.

The cause of global warming is based on the greenhouse effect, which is in turn cased by carbon dioxide from fossil fuels. These emissions leak from the degradation of waste, buildings, and animals themselves. According to a study done in 2007 by The American Science Journal, a kilogram of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by a car every 250 kilometres, or burning a 100-watt light-bulb for approximately twenty days. One-third of fossil fuels, according to E magazine (a well-versed environmental publication), are produced by raising animals for food.  According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, one calorie of animal protein production requires more than ten times the fossil fuel input as a calorie of plant protein, simultaneously producing ten times the carbon dioxide.

The production of animal flesh requires sixteen pounds of grain for just one pound of output. These grain resources could instead be used to feed the 800 million or so people world-wide suffering from malnutrition. Sixty million people die of starvation every year; a child starves to death every two seconds. Considering, for example, that 80 per cent of corn and 95 per cent of oats grown in the US is eaten by livestock, it’s mind-boggling why humans are left with only the remaining twenty.

The process of slaughtering animals for food is a much longer, energy-wasting process then need be: once these grains are grown, tilled, taken care of, and trucked to their factories, they are then trucked to the farms. These animals are brought to slaughterhouses, then to processing centres ─ both of which use energy for transportation and to maintain. The meat is packaged and then transported to grocery stores. Between the energy, the production of fossil fuels, and the manure, our air is tainted. Every step of this process – growing, transporting, operating, even keeping the product cold in the grocery stores ─ uses up precious energy.

It doesn’t stop here, though. Our land is also at risk; consider, for a moment, all of the areas that are bulldozed to make more room for animals and the crops needed to feed them. Rainforests, too, are in jeopardy: clear-cutting of these forests results in fewer natural resources and the extinction of thousands of species.

According to the Toronto Vegetarian Association (www.veg.ca), the average agricultural land area in North America is 1.6 hectares per person; in other countries (foremost with plant-based diets) it’s only 0.2 hectares per person. Needing only this half-acre to produce food would save vast amounts of land to protect our resources. As we speak, 53 per cent of the third largest rainforest in Papua New Guinea is vanishing, and according to National Geographic, expected to be gone by 2021. The trees that would normally play a critical role in absorbing the greenhouse gas emissions have been destroyed, increasing the severity and speed of global warming.

Combined with the aforementioned (but only briefly noted) health effects, as well as the obvious (but often ignored) animal suffering, this issue shouldn’t be taken lightly. A group of studies done in 2007 from the US National Academy of Sciences revealed that carbon dioxide emissions are rising three times faster than in the 1990s: 3 per cent per year as opposed to 1.1 per cent.agricultural-land

There are a plethora more studies, all coming to the same conclusion: less meat = less destruction on the environment. Plant-based diets use less water, less space, less CO2 output, and wreak less havoc on our earth. Canadians eat more than twice as much meat as the global average, and by reducing this –even if initially designating one meat-free day per week – will aide in combating these issues. Combine this tactic with eating locally whenever possible, reducing chemical pesticides on your own lawn and garden, and becoming mindful of your choices.

It doesn’t take an Einstein to understand the obvious benefits. Albert Einstein said it himself:  “Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances of survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”