Flavours of Mauritius: a cooking lesson with Anjoo
Down a lane just outside the fishing village of Grande Gaube is a low white house with a lilac tree in the garden and a long shady terrace filled with the fragrant scents of spices and flowers. This is the family residence of Anjoo and Julien who live here with their two small daughters Jade and Fleur, and for the past year they’ve been welcoming visitors to their peaceful, tucked-away home for an insight into Mauritian food and culture.
Learning to cook Mauritian cuisine with Anjoo is one of the most authentic local experiences available on the island, and exactly the kind of meaningful interaction that modern travellers are seeking. Whether full-on foodie or occasional kitchen dabbler, a morning with Anjoo is a trip for the taste buds. And what’s more, guests will learn how to prepare and cook a delicious Mauritius meal and get to reap the rewards of their labour over lunch.
It all began around a year ago, when Anjoo met a couple out walking on the beach who wanted to know all about the ins and outs of Mauritian cooking. After talking for a while about spices and curries and the quirks of local dishes, Anjoo invited them to her home and cooked them a meal. “They were so happy,” she recalls. “It made me realise this could be something I could expand upon, which could work with our lifestyle and fit in around the children. I could be at home with them, work the hours I wanted, and it would be work that I loved and that made other people happy.”
Needless to say, the venture has been a success. Usually working alongside just one or two people at a time, Anjoo has turned her love of cooking, her warm and welcoming personality and her considerable language skills – she speaks English, French, Creole, Hindi and Bhojpuri – into a viable business. And visitors to the island not only learn how to cook some classic Mauritian dishes, but get to spend time with a local family too, comparing recipes and techniques and swapping stories about their respective lives.
In the kitchen
So what’s on the menu? It could be anything, and you can be as hands-off or as involved as you wish. Anjoo’s kitchen is large and light, so there’s room to get stuck in or just stand back and watch from the sidelines – it’s entirely up to you. We decide to let Anjoo take control so we can make notes and watch with admiration as she prepares a mouthwatering octopus curry with various accompaniments: a richly savoury dhal followed by sides of pumpkin, chayote, okra and a delicious coconut chutney. All are infused with herbs and spices from her 'magic tray' – cumin seeds, thyme, carri poulé, turmeric, mustard seeds, fenugreek – which fill the air with the pungent aromas of Mauritius as they sizzle away in her wok.
Making faratas (also known as parathas) comes last. These fried, folded flat breads are made from just three basic ingredients – oil, water and flour – which Anjoo kneads into a dough before forming into rough balls. These are left to sit by the window for a while before being rolled out, folded, and rolled again – the key to their eventual flakiness. Finally, they’re cooked on a traditional cast iron tava (a type of flat, heavy hotplate) before being roughly ‘slapped’ into loose, layered squares. Used to scoop up curries, sauces and chutneys, the faratas are placed in a container and covered over with a cloth before eating, softening a little from the steam.
There’s a lot to take in, but the morning goes quickly and before we know it we are done. When everything is ready we return to the garden and gather round the table with all the family, accompanied only by birdsong, a light breeze and the gentle buzzing of bees. Now it’s time to sit back and appreciate the fruits of Anjoo’s labour. This is what makes the experience so special – the chance to relax and share a freshly cooked meal with a local family; a chance to learn about each others’ lives in an authentic, unhurried setting. And just as expected, the food is as good as the company, full of heart and depth and exquisite flavour. We can’t wait to try it for ourselves.
Contact Solis for more information on how to book your cooking lesson with Anjoo and other unique Mauritian experiences.