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Le biryani - A national dish

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Biryani dates back at least to Moghul times, when emperors sought to impress often thousands of guests with a uniform and savoury dish. it probably came to Mauritius from the indian sub-continent more than two centuries ago with bhandari cooks who formed part of the crew of lascars (a term for asian seamen)
working on british naval ships. biryani has since become popular throughout the country.

“All the ingredients and spices – including the expensive and perfumed red saffron – are then slow-cooked in a deg over a wood fire.”

It has become a Mauritian culinary speciality and is made with basmati rice, potatoes and meat or occasionally fish, and a lot of spices. Major Moslem celebrations in particular are sure to include biryani and great quantities are often prepared by biryani specialist cooks, still known as Bhandari for historical reasons. Biryani broke through ethnic and religious boundaries to become a dish served in many households. Many families have developed their own recipes but it is also bought from take-away snack bars and pavements stalls, or eaten in restaurants.

The traditional rules for its preparation are broadly similar but some cooks add a personal touch. Khaleed is one of those who uses traditional methods. The rice, the meat in a spicy sauce and the potatoes cooked in salted water are first cooked separately. All the ingredients and spices – including the expensive and perfumed red saffron – are then slow-cooked in a deg (a cone-shaped cooking pot) over a wood fire. Before that, however, Khaleed prepares to cover the opening
of the pot. A flour-based paste is placed around the edge and a metal lid placed on top of that. The main cooking process now starts. As spice-filled steam rises within the pot, it condenses and then runs back down the sides in a continuous cycle adding further flavour to all the ingredients.

The biryani is ready after about 45 minutes. The cook now breaks the dried-out paste seal, lifts the lid and, as fantastic aromas swirl from the pot, serves a proper Mauritian-style biryani, often eaten accompanied with a side relish that includes cucumber and tamarind.