Elderly ladies from my grandparents' generation would direct the cooking for special events such as weddings, indicating the amount of spices to be used with gestures. I can remember hearing them talking about whether the spices were ready during preparations for a wedding when I was about 8: "you know that the garam masala is not ready yet because you can't smell the pepper", said one of my aunts.
The food was being prepared in the yard under the mango trees, and a lady who was a friend of my grandparents was in control of the cooking. She was bustling around, hitching up her sari, showing how much of each ingredient needed to be added to each pot and checking to be sure that the food was being prepared properly. She was so skilled that she could usually discern at a glance whether the food was to her satisfaction.
Most of the time, several dishes would be served using large slices of washed banana leaves as plates. This traditional manner of serving food was not only easy and environmentally friendly but the banana leaves imparted a distinct and unmistakable aroma to the meals. Some of the pots used for these occasions are still in my family today. I was looking at one of them when I was home recently and marvelling at the skills of the people who used them. They were so large that my 8 year old could easily fit into them. Watching her play with the pots and climb into one of them brought back a flood of memories of the pots and food preparation. I could smell the foods being prepared and hear the sounds from years ago.
The foods I prepare for Rani's Cuisine are special to me as they bring back memories of well-being and of people coming together as well as people caring for others. I attended university in Canada and I would go back to Mauritius on holidays, my neighbours, friends and relatives would put in a lot of effort to make my favourite foods and it was always very healing, both physically and emotionally. I would always take the spice mixtures and pickles back to Canada with me and the tastes and aromas would always remind me of the care and attention given to me by others. My friends in Canada always commented on how nice everything that I brought back from Mauritius tasted and I very much enjoyed sharing it with them.
Whenever I went home on holidays, friends and relatives would arrive that evening for a welcome home party and I would be invited to each person's place for dinner during my stay, a tradition that continues to this day. Every day, before coming home for lunch, my father would call to see whether I would be there and if I was at home, he would bring my absolute favourite street food for lunch, a couple of pairs of dal puri, a sort of flatbread stuffed with split peas and coming with various fillings. Although Mauritius is a beautiful island and well known for tourism, the food is the best part for me. During my visits, my aunt, who is the best cook in the family makes a point of cooking my favourite foods several times a week.
I think my weakness for her fish curry and my father's octopus curry is well known among relatives over there!
My global food adventure didn't just remain in Mauritius and Canada. Moving to Australia in 2007 was exciting, but, it also meant that due to customs regulations, I was no longer able to bring my pickles and spices from Mauritius. If I wanted the same pickles and masalas, I had to learn to make them properly.
Fortunately for me, the necessary seasonal ingredients are available here in Australia. Later on that year, when I was in Mauritius, my aunt taught me to make them. Until I made friends in Australia, the new life was a bit difficult but the time I spent cooking and experimenting paid off. Friends began telling me how much they liked my food. I felt so happy hearing them exclaim with delight when they would try my pickles and curries and leave my house with the pickles and spice masalas.
I firmly believe that my ability to cook and my unconscious effort to try and recreate a social situation similar to the one back home helped me make friends, adapt better to living here and be happy.
I recently saw the healing power of these foods, when I went to visit a friend who was unwell. I decided to prepare some food to take to her. As I was grinding the spices, I hoped that she would feel better soon and thought of her as I cooked. When I took the curry to her house, I saw her eyes light up as she realised that I had come with food for her. As she started eating, I could see that she was starting to feel better. She recently told me how much better she felt as a result of the food.
As she talked, I suddenly realised how I was reliving someone that had happened many years earlier. My relatives had prepared the same dishes for me, grinding spices with care and love when I was unwell and I would feel better even at the thought of having those foods. In a way, a circle had been completed and I became aware of how naturally I was reflecting my own path.
The foods and actions that had brought so much to my life in the past are still here in my life, except that I am now in a position to prepare those foods and be the one to give them to others, it is a part of me. I may have moved to a new country, but sharing the healing properties of food and spices is still a large part of my life and I feel special every time I prepare food for others.
The pleasure and healing that my food brings to people is the main reason why I do what I do.