Friday, 14 June 2013

yummy choo mauritian pop-up - review

aubergine bringele / shrimp croquettes / gateaux piment

The only Mauritian food I have the pleasure of devouring is cooked by my Mum – and hats off to it, it’s pretty good. No wait – it’s excellent (she might be reading this). All jokes aside, it is excellent. It’s a significant enough draw for me to have entertained fleeting thoughts throughout and post University of ‘maybe I could move back home?’. 

Such thoughts don’t pervade my mind anymore – I’m a bit past living with the parents now. But for Mum’s cooking, it’s almost feasible. I can genuinely smell the spices of her beef with cloves, achard, and butter bean curry as I type. Is there a word for that? According to Google yes. Phantosmia - the perception of a smell in the absence of any physical odours. Alas, there is no actual Mauritian curry where I’m sitting.

It’s not always feasible for me to drive the hour it takes to get to my parents unannounced and exclaim that I’m hungry for some prawn rougaille. Because if it was, my mum should be charging for the service. 

So when an opportunity arises to eat some home cooked Mauritian fare, I’m on the case immediately. And such an occasion presented itself in the form of a Mauritian pop-up supper club hosted by Selina Periampillai from Yummy Choo Eats. Here’s a little about the lovely lady herself:

'Selina Periampillai is a self-taught cook who hosts the popular 'Yummy Choo' supper club at her home in Croydon, specialising in Mauritian home cooked cuisine, and her website has become a ‘go to’ page for Mauritian inspired recipes and food reviews.  Specialising in cooking up colourful, moreish dishes with a tropical flair and unique flavours, Selina combines her passion and creative use of ingredients to transport guests to the sunshine island and leaves them wanting more!'

I’ll have some of that.

Rather than Selina’s home, this particular event was hosted at the Blue Mountain Cafe as part of the Pop Goes Sydenham programme seeing the town come alive with food events featuring local chefs, suppliers and produce. 

At a mere 25 minute drive from my work in Clapham and with ample parking, it was an ideal location for a week night meal. The venue was brightly coloured with room for around 20 guests at communal tables to accommodate the sharing platters and bowls. At front of house we had Belinda Lester doing a sterling job of greeting everyone warmly and swiftly planting welcomed lychee rum cocktails into our hands to help ease us into the format of the evening. 

Once all the guests arrived, Selina stepped out from the kitchen in chef whites and with a beaming smile to welcome all and provided a quick low-down of what to expect for the different courses.

The large platters delivered consisted of an array of appetising bite-sized typical Mauritian starters (or gajaks). These included aubergine bringele (aubergine slices coated in a light chickpea batter); well spiced and soft shrimp croquettes made from dried shrimp and potato; and crunchy gateaux piment – a typical street food made from split peas and chillis. 

To accompany these were some winning chutneys – coconut tamarind and mint along with a vibrant cotomili satini (coriander chutney). Both lent aromatic, light and refreshing qualities to the food – they were delightful.

coconut, tamarind and mint chutney / coriander chutney

There are few things that make the heart of a hungry diner sing more than being regaled with large bowl after large bowl of quality food leaving the kitchen and landing at your table, and so we were introduced to the mains. 

My first encounter with these dishes was in the form of wafting cinnamon aromas penetrating my olfactory bulb before I even caught sight of them. And what an introduction. The sauce for the cari poulet (chicken curry) was a beautiful brown reminding me of the curries my my mum makes housing tender morsels of meat, and the coconut and spinach dhal was thick and creamy from the coconut milk

The fish vindaye was not something I had sampled before and Selina revealed it’s often the most popular dish at her supper clubs - it’s easy to see why. Pickled mustard fish with chilli and onion – appetisingly chewy chunks of fish coated in a dry spiced sauce. Dozens upon dozens of freshly made and warm pooris along with very fragrant rice were passed around the tables to help mop up all the goodness remaining on plates. 

The prawns in the rougaille were soft and appealing, a texture that seems to pervade most cooked prawns I’ve experienced. However, I felt the rougaille sauce itself was a little too liquid – I have previously known it to be thicker and something that coats the meat within but this was more akin to a soup and therefore I felt the flavour was a little diluted. No doubt this is down to the permeations of recipes over time and from family to family; they will always have their own unique nuances and never be identical. And they shouldn’t be. 

fish vindaye - pickled mustard fish with chillies and onion

cari poulet - a family recipe chicken curry

coconut and spinach dhal

prawn rougaille

freshly made pooris

For the brave (Matt included), there were little bowls of piment confit dotted on all the tables -  hot bullet chillies with garlic and oil. When I say hot, I in no way mean that lightly. I had half a tiny one and stopped my brain melting by swiftly shoving coconut chutney in my mouth. Matt managed to consume a total of three with other big mouthfuls of food before getting hiccups and admitting defeat. 

It reminded me of the time my mum made achard (a Mauritian pickled vegetable salad) as part of a Christmas dinner. It contained both green beans and big fat hot chillies. She would always remove the chillies from the portion she dished out to me and I would put my full trust in her ability to differentiate them from the beans and successfully fish them all out. But this time, she missed one. I merely bit down (I didn’t even chew), immediately spat it out and what was to follow was probably the most violent reaction to a chilli I’ve ever had

My breathing was cut short and instinctive reaction put a tissue to my mouth, which I then used to dab my face now wet with streaming eyes. This then caused the whole side of my face to burn bright red of which a slathering of Vaseline was the only relief. Oh, and I temporarily lost my hearing. I hear something like 1 out of every 100 chillies are off the scale hotter than the rest of their species and you can consider yourself the subject of any Schadenfreude taking place at that dinner table if one ends up in your mouth. A painful Christmas evening for my face that was indeed.

piment confit - bullets of fire

Our trou normand consisted of little shots of pineapple and chilli sorbet inspired by the combination sold on the beaches of Mauritius to help cool off sweltering bodies. It did a perfect job in cleansing the palate and cooled off our sweltering mouths from those piment confit bullets of fire. 

For dessert, individual tropical plates of coconut sago drenched in a sticky but not too sweet spiced syrup sitting alongside a sweet mango and pomegranate salad. Sago is a starch extracted from the spongy centre of palm stems and seemed to behave quite like rice grains in a soft but packaged rice pudding  – yet another new and successful ingredient to check off my list of conquered consumables.

pineapple and chilli sorbet

coconut sago with spiced syrup / mango and pomegranate

The atmosphere was lively with sega music playing in the background and conversation flowing across parties and tables as we got to know our neighbours. For many, it was their first experience sampling the delights of Mauritian cuisine

I like to think of it as the Vietnamese of the South East Asian world; in a similar vein Mauritian food is lighter and more aromatic than the comparable but quite different food from the Asian sub-continent. 

After grafting hard in the kitchen with her mother present for assistance, Selina closed the evening by thanking everyone for coming and making her way round the tables to speak to each individually. It was a truly enjoyable few hours and I only wish I had brought some Tupper wear (if I could get away with it).

Selina frequently hosts supper clubs and pop-ups and there are probably few better ways to introduce yourself to this cuisine than by letting her cook it for you. To stay up to date with her upcoming events, follow her on Twitter (@yummychooeats) or keep an eye on her website

Selina, a sister from another mister, you’re doing us Mauritians proud.

My rating: 4/5

Afiyet olsun.

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