Bombay Sweets Mart: A Mauritian institution
Got a sweet tooth? Then you’re in luck. In our previous feature on mithai, we briefly mentioned Bombay Sweets Mart – the famous store in Port Louis which has been serving Indian sweets to the local community for more than 40 years. Recently we had the opportunity to visit the store on Remy Ollier Street in person to find out more about its history and, of course, to taste a few of its delicacies for ourselves.
Good things come to those who wait
When the Ramessur and Surtani families opened Bombay Sweets Mart in 1969, it was not an instant success. The economy was tough, and it was a new concept for Mauritians, who did not flock to the store in large numbers. It took several long years of perseverance, hard work and commitment before the store started to gain the reputation and popularity it enjoys today.
“At the time, it was a brand new thing for local people,” says Bhoushan Ramessur, one of the shop’s current managers and son of original co-founder Chand Ramessur, now in his 80s. “Most people still prepared traditional sweets at home, unlike these days. But now people lead busier lives and are happy to choose from a wide selection of pre-made sweets, packaged nicely and prepared with care and attention.”
Indian sweets, or mithai, are eaten at festivals and holidays like Divali, Eid, Rakhi and New Year, for special occasions like weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and promotions, or simply whenever the urge takes you. The main ingredients of these handcrafted concoctions are sugar; fresh, powdered or condensed milk; various types of flours, and ground nuts like almonds, cashews and pistachios. The incredible assortment of varieties are then determined by their shape, colour, texture and added ingredients such as dried or candied fruits; spices like cardamom and cloves, and flavourings such as rose water, vanilla, strawberry, butterscotch and other syrups.
Many of the ingredients are imported from elsewhere, most notably nuts from India and fresh milk from Australia or New Zealand. “Most of the sweets are made with powdered milk but some, like Ras Malai, have to be made with fresh milk to ensure it retains a natural taste,” says Bhoushan. “Mauritius does have a dairy industry but it is very small – around 10% of all dairy consumed. The rest comes mainly from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and France.”
Choose your favourite
Some of the most popular types of mithai include the crispy circular coils of Jalebi, the pancake-like Malpoa, and crunchy, battered Laddu. But possibly the best-loved of all is intensely sweet Burfi – which in itself comes in a multitude of different variations. Some are cut into diamonds or squares and wrapped in edible silver foil, while others are fashioned into visual representations of fruits or flowers, like the apple-shaped Safarjan, or Ti Pomme in local parlance. The often-garish shades mostly reflect the sweets’ ingredients, so for example, a forest green and orange Burfi may have been made with carrot and pistachios, while a creamy coloured example may only contain sugar, milk and coconut.
Aside from the local population, the store has long been a favoured place to stock up on mithai for visitors from South Africa and the island of Réunion, and – increasingly – tourists from elsewhere too. If you’re looking for something truly local and authentic, a box of mithai from Bombay Sweets Mart makes a perfect gift or souvenir to take home. “Because the sweets are generally quite dry, they will stay fresh outside the fridge for at least one week,” Bhoushan says. “If immediately refrigerated, then you can expect them to last for two.” And if you’re not in the vicinity of Port Louis, there’s still a chance to get your hands on a box or two, as the family have now opened a second branch in Quatres Bornes.
Visit Bombay Sweets Mart online for more information, including images of all the different varieties and directions to the store.
Inspired to plan a food-focused trip to Mauritius? Visit Air Mauritius Holidays for all the latest deals and packages, and check out the Flavour section of our blog for more great ideas for eating and drinking while you’re here.
For tailor-made itineraries on the ground in Mauritius see SOLIS INDIAN OCEAN.