In the spice shop, Madame Mansoorah fills a big scoop with fragrant flavours. A cinnamon stick. Star anise. Cardamom. A handful of cloves. A scatter of fennel seeds.
Like all of the best home-cooked food, ingredients for homemade Mauritian biryani are measured with the eyes. By feel. Madame Mansoorah’s mum taught her how to measure by whispering “enough child” when she’d put too much spice or chilli in.
Mauritius might be 0.06% the size of India, but there’s still plenty of variety in the way biryani is made here. It all comes down to the taste of the cook.
“If you go to 10 different places in Mauritius to get biryani, there will be 10 different styles, tastes and perfumes. That is why it’s famous and people love it.”
The spices used in Mauritius biryanis are usually the same. What changes and creates so much variation is the dosage of each spice. “Spices have to be very little so that it does not dominate the taste of the saffron and the caramelised onion,” advises Madame Mansoorah.
Ingredients gathered, Madame Mansoorah and her team get to work. One starts turning the spices into a paste by crushing them between a slab and rolling pin, both made of stone and releasing all their scent and flavour.
Carefully, the ingredients are added to a deg. A deg is a classic shallow pot used for making biryani. Everything is added in layers: saffron-scented chicken, potatoes, yoghurt, crispy shallots and fluffy white rice.