We used to hang a handsewn canvas bag on the doorknob. He would arrive on his old Raleigh (black bike) at sunrise and used an isolated manual air horn. No megaphone required, he would shout: ‘di pain so’, meaning ‘hot bread’, freshly baked bread. We called him ‘marsandipin’ (the bread seller) and he was the neighborhood’s morning alarm in our former Mauritius.
I always wondered how he managed to keep his balance on this means of transportation, with two big jute bags in the back, on his luggage rack while getting our bread home delivered. He most certainly woke up much earlier than we did, around 4am, to ride to the traditional bakery where the homemade bread was baked over wood fire. Come rain or shine, this athletic built man always made sure he honored his commitments, despite his advanced age.
One of us would jump off the bed and take the bag. Leaving the bag and especially its content outside was out of the question. The delicious smell arising from it caused the rest of us to get on our feet, leave our cozy beds and bounce with joy.
How can I describe this homemade bread otherwise than stating it has not aged in centuries? It is round in shape and weighs about a 100 grams ; it is cracked in the middle so that it more easily breaks in equal halves. White flour, water, salt and bakers’ yeast make up its ingredients. Its crumb is filled with alveoli, which makes it soft and crispy. Salted butter, papaya or pineapple jam, grated cheese or sardines, hot chilli cakes to stuff it bring an added value and taste to it. There are several possibilities.
Things have evolved nowadays, although we are still fond of this special bread. The ‘marsandipins’ have disappeared. We drive, take the bus or walk to the supermarket where we can choose among over twenty different types of bread of all shapes. They are certainly more nutritious, garnished with olives, onions, pine nuts or sesame seeds amongst others. The canvas bags have been replaced by paper bags or are made of biodegradable material.
The traditional wood fire has been replaced by the oven and the bread is made the mechanical way. French baguettes and pan bread, often cut into thin slices, are popular. Today, we are opting more and more for bread, and eating less rice, our basic consumer food. And yet when we throw parties, we Mauritians still order homemade mini bread and feel nostalgic.
You will be delighted if you get a chance to visit the old bakery in the aptly named village of Bon Accueil (literally meaning warm welcome). Its simplicity and authenticity will catch your eye.
Our morning alarm, the ‘marsandipin’ rode out of our lives. We no longer hear the horn, but some of us are often woken up these days by the oven’s timer beeping; the pre-baked bread tickles our taste buds.
The Bread Festival, which was celebrated in Mauritius on the 20th and 21st of May, is a tribute to bakers and bread lovers.
If there are any left, do not let them go to waste! There are always more options : a nice coconut bread pudding, with vanilla, dried grapes topped with caramel. Another option is making French toast.
In the spirit of the Bread Festival this week, I shall cook the famous Roly Poly Pudding, an upside-down, stunning bread pudding!