How the ‘dholl puri’ travelled to Mauritius
- A popular street food snack in Mauritius traces its roots back to India
- The dish is a poignant reminder of the indentured labourers who went to the island in the 19th century
An iconic street food from Mauritius has deep connections with India, evident from its name dholl puri. The underlying story of this dish is a poignant reminder of the indentured labourers who went from India to Mauritius in the 1800s.
Former Mrs Indian Pacific Universe 2016 Venisha Gooriah is an expert on Mauritian culture and cuisine. We got talking about Mauritian street food and the popular dholl puri came up.
Here is Gooriah’s story on how this dish came to be. The indentured labourers were given fixed rations of food and fresh water for a week or so. Given that fresh water was a precious resource, their families would use the water in which it was cooked to bind the dough. Some of the dal would invariably get mixed into the dough, so it ended up as a flatbread with some dal in it. The present-day dholl puri is a paratha stuffed with a crumbled chana dal mixture.
Even though it is called puri, this flatbread is not deep-fried—it is cooked on a tava, or griddle. A pair of these pliable breads are used as a carrier for a curry with toppings. In his book The Literature Of The Indian Diaspora: Theorizing The Diasporic Imaginary (2007), Vijay Mishra writes about a Trinidadian version of the same dish, which goes by the name buss-up-shot (burst-up-shirt) because the texture resembles rags. If you ever eat a dholl puri, you will realize how accurate this description is. Among Indian dishes, the Maharashtrian puran poli resembles a sweet version of the dholl puri, bearing more similarities to it than a dal paratha.
Gooriah also shared why maida (refined flour) is used to prepare this flatbread. Wheat flour, or atta, was sent via ships from India but it would often get spoilt. Maida, which has a longer shelf life, survived the journey better. This is probably why, even now, almost all the Indian-origin dishes in Mauritian cuisine use maida.
Chef Vineet Bhatia has had close ties with Mauritius since 1992. His restaurant Amari at Lux Belle Mare resort in Quatre Cocos village showcases Indian cuisine in a luxury setting. Bhatia explains that it is not easy to eat a dholl puri by itself because it’s extremely dry, has a crumbly texture and minimal flavouring—just salt, turmeric and roasted cumin powder. “This is one street food that totally depends on accompaniments such as achard (a kind of pickle), made using pineapple or carrot, a rougaille (tomato-based curry) or a butter bean curry that makes the dish more palatable and easier to eat without sticking to the throat," he says. The locals also eat it with kheer (rice pudding).
Home cooks in Mauritius add their own creative touches to the dish, like onions, chillies or coriander to the filling to add flavour. It is not unusual to buy a bunch of dholl puris from the nearest vendor and bring them home to eat with home-made curries and pickles.
Bhatia has featured a modern take on dholl puri in Amari’s menu, prepared in the form of an Afghani naan with a salan (a Hyderabadi chilli curry with a peanut-sesame-tamarind base) served over it, in a bite-sized course.
You will find that the taste of this street food is consistent through the island country. There are hardly any variations of this price-sensitive dish, sold at roadside shacks or in glass boxes hauled on bikes.
It is indeed the one dish you must try when you visit Mauritius.
Street food for the soul
Vineet Bhatia’s sampler for in and around Port Louis
-Try dholl puri at the Flic en Flac central market. The other popular eats at the shopping village are doodh falooda and gateaux piment (a kind of dal-chilli vada).
-The stalls on the coastal road of Grand Bay and the stalls around the port at Port Louis.
-Dewa & Sons at Bagatelle Mall is a must-try for dholl puri.
Nandita Iyer is a food blogger and the author of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.
FIRST PUBLISHED14.09.2019 | 08:45 AM IST