Mauritius – Memories of the past: Our grandmothers’ pickles

You just have to ask any Mauritian, and you’ll know what a “zasar” is, a Creole word for pickles, spicy condiments made from vegetables or fruits to accompany typical Mauritian dishes, usually served with rice and various curries.

Indeed, for generations in Mauritius, the “zasar” is a popular condiment, which one would always find at a Mauritian home as no authentic local meal can be savoured without it. Most likely originating from India, these condiments are our chosen favourites, which each Mauritian must have been eating since a young age. While homemade pickles are now available in supermarkets or markets, some will surely remember how our mothers and grandmothers made pickles back in the day.

First, the women of the family were enlisted to peel, seed, and cut the vegetables or fruits into small pieces. A conducive moment to reconnect, laugh, and chit-chat. The task became even more challenging when dealing with small-seeded fruits such as bilimbis. After being immersed in salted boiling water, the vegetables or fruits were sun-dried in large containers for a few days. Who remembers from their childhood memories, the sight of large aluminum “vann” (large, round and flat container) in which pieces of vegetables or fruits were sun-dried? Only our elders could know at a glance when they were ready to be cooked. They could also easily tell if some small mischievous hands had meanwhile stolen several pieces to enjoy secretly, as this is what we all did as children!

The spices used to cook the pickles were crushed on a “ros cari,” a Creole term for a thick and flat rectangular mortar, with a “baba ros cari” which is a small cylindrical roller made of stone. It was a task performed by our grandmothers that would leave their hands yellow; they would then cook everything in a large pan with chili, which would burn our throats and make us cough and cry. We were then forced to quickly leave the kitchen. We patiently awaited the end of the process to watch our elders fill several jars with the precious mix, which was immediately covered with oil. The drawback was that we then had to wait several days, even weeks for them to marinate before we could enjoy them over a delicious meal. It was usual to prepare them for big celebrations such as Easter, Eid, Christmas, or New Year’s. They are also an essential element of Hindu and Muslim wedding dinner ceremonies where parents and friends are invited, pickles are special items on the menu. Once again, mums, aunties, and female neighbours would participate weeks before the big day in making pickles of all kinds: vegetables, mangoes, ambarellas, olives, suran (elephant foot yam) … and so many more.

If you happen to be in Mauritius, don’t miss out on a good Mauritian meal accompanied by one of our “zasar.” Enjoy!


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