A hot and crispy bread roll, a layer of butter, some fresh gateaux piment and a cup of tea. This is what most Mauritians would call the perfect Sunday morning. Though, we are now used to the classic round shape, the much loved gateau piment was originally made with a hole in the centre, almost like a donut.
As we venture into the Quatres Bornes market, a radio blasts old hindi songs from the 1980s and this sets the tone of a typical weekday afternoon at the market. In a huge cast iron pot (“caraille”), a dozen or so of yellow balls float in the hot oil. It is a real treat for the eyes.
Here we meet, Nayesh Mungrah, a street-snack vendor who expertly dips a hand into the batter and throws the balls into the oil. Since the early 1970s, his wife’s family, including him, have been selling gateau piment along with other treats.
“Where is the hole? It has disappeared from over 10 years ago for practical reasons”, says Nayesh. “If I had to make a hole in each cake, it would take me 4 times as long. Plus, I would have to use both my hands to make the hole. Customers are in a hurry, so we have to be practical.”
But who decided to stop this tradition of a hole in the gateau piment? “When one vendor started, we all did the same. And since then it remained round in shape.”
On the topic of disappearing traditions of the gateaux piments, it is not just the hole that has been left out, but also the chilli. “We stopped adding chillies because many people said their children’s lips would burn or that someone couldn’t eat spicy food and so on. So we simply decided to stop adding it”. How can we have gateau piment without the piment (chilli)? Oddly enough, it is still a hit amongst everyone. As Nayesh puts it, “It needs to be made with love. Everyone knows the recipe but the extra ingredient is love.”
For only Rs10 you can get 4 gateaux piments, that’s Rs2.50 each. In the 1950’s it was even cheaper, for as little as 2 cents, you could get yourself one. And how much does this little ball weigh… 22 grams!