Dhal puri and alouda in Mauritius
I first tried alouda—Mauritius’ answer to the milkshake—at the Central Market in Port Louis. I caught a whiff of curry coming from the food court and followed my nose. It was before nine on a weekday morning and the place was packed with people lapping down glasses of the stuff. Glossy black beads floated to the top of the milk, and at first I mistook it for bubble tea. The seeds are actually basil seeds.
I ordered a glass. It was sweet—Mauritians serve their sweets syrupy and their spicy foods fiery—and delicious. Making it is simple: at the market, milk is poured into a large bucket and sweetened with sugar and vanilla. Thin strips of agar agar jelly are added, along with a generous handful of basil seeds, which fatten up like chia seeds as they sit in the liquid. A glass is completed with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The basil seeds are said to have a cooling power—no small benefit in hot and sweaty Port Louis. The agar agar lends a feeling of fullness.
As I roamed the foot court, I noticed that for every person swilling back a glass of alouda, another was navigating a messy helping of dhal puri.
“Yes, sometimes people have both,” the man at Stall Five told me.
“The dhal puri is very spicy and the chili hurts the stomach. So you have the alouda to feel better.”
At the market, dhal puri is prepared with studied abandon. The delicate crepe, made from milled split peas and flour, is laid out, and topped with bits of curried beans, stewed greens, homemade tomato sauce, and finally chili—an artful splash of each, propelled by a flick of the server’s wrist. It is folded into a quarter and, of course, it’s best eaten hot. I ate one, and found it delicious: spicy, starchy comfort food.
I had a look at the other stalls, but it was clear Stall Five was doing something special. His dhal puris were fluffier and plumper, and he had the longest line. I ordered a second.
“Mauritians like it because it is practical. Also, they like spicy food,” he told me. He wouldn’t tell me his name, but he gestured for the piece of paper I held in my hand. “I’ll give you the name that everybody calls me,” he said. In capital letters, he wrote: “JOY – FOOD COURT NO. 5.”
“His are the best,” said one of the customers. Judging from the ease with which he handled the droopy thing, I took him for a regular. “Some people have many, but for me”—he patted his flat tummy—“two is enough.”
I thanked Joy and set out into the damp warmth of Port Louis, feeling happy and full.
Edith Honan is reporting from Mauritius with the support of the International Reporting Project.