By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
Under the title A slimmer Christmas dinner, the Guardian Eat Right website purports to give advice for the traditional Christmas meal to potential revellers, and begins with the question, ‘Turkey, ham, stuffing, all the trimmings, pudding, cake or mince pies, not to mention the vol-au-vents, crisps and peanuts at the staff ‘do’ – Christmas is great, isn’t it?’ before going on to observe, ‘Unfortunately, the greater the indulgence in December, the heavier the cloud of depression when you step on the scales in January — and the less likely it is that the new jumper you got for Christmas will hide the bulges. This time of the year is as much of a challenge for your waistline as it is for your wallet.’ It ends on a note of hope, ‘Never fear – we have some tips to really save you pounds on the Christmas feast…’ covering the starters, the main course, the accompaniments (gravy), and the desert. The tips are meant for you to enjoy the Christmas meal at the same time as absolving you of guilt, for you can spare yourself up to 1000 calories and over 70g of fat if you follow the advice. So, Eat Right concludes, ‘Take these tips, lighten up your Christmas and still have a fantastic feast.’
The menus being advertised locally for the coming weekend fiesta are equally challenging to both the wallet and the waistline, and one presumes that the tips from the Eat Right website will be of benefit here too – if only those who are planning to indulge take the trouble of reading about them, and putting them into practice.
This, most certainly, is unlikely to happen.
Nevertheless, it is comforting to know that there are people out there who feel responsible enough to caution the conspicuous consumers on these occasions of temptation and abandon, for Christmas – like many other festivals — is now more of merry-making than anything else. And inevitably, that means much eating and drinking. About the former, the customary perception locally is that at festival time pou manze bon zaffaire means, as a friend of mine likes to say, that there must be ene ti senti pi.
Those who could not afford it – and there are fewer of that category around – have always thought that eating meat, preferably plenty of it, bridges the divide between them and the better off, because for the latter the question of affordability does not arise. As a result, the growing prosperity in the country has been paralleled by an increased consumption of high calorie meat-based foods which also happen to be rich in fat, with a turning away from foods that have traditionally been our source of good nutrition. We have internalised the stereotype that brède mouroume baton mouroume is good only for zenfan misère, and therefore tended to look down on what our elders used to grow in the garden, without any need for insecticides or artificial fertilizers.
The advent of what is nowadays called junk food has not, however, displaced the ubiquitous dalpuri, which is as part of our Mauritian culture as is gateau napolitaine. Let’s not be hypocrites: everybody enjoys a good pair of dalpuris, and it is unfortunate that the dalpuri has been lumped with the junk food – for it is not so, repeat, not!
We know that health is nutrition plus ‘other things’ – our genetic make-up, and lifestyle factors such as level of physical activity, drinking and smoking habits, social relations, etc; similarly nutrition is food plus ‘other things’, as a WHO expert who was here recently to counsel us about nutrition pointed out. The first consideration is of course, the content of the food in terms of what is known to be needed for health, namely carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. The ‘other things’ include such matters as availability and affordability of food, all the related sanitary aspects from farm to table, the way it is prepared, where it is prepared and by whom and so on. Clearly, commercial and restaurant food is, literally, a different kettle of fish from home-made food which is laced with parental love – although many children, even those à l’âge de raison, do not see that dimension.
From a health point of view, the dalpuri, according to the WHO expert is a ‘balanced and nutritious food.’ Dal is a pulse, and pulses are rich in protein. The shell is made of flour, which contains carbohydrate. Fat is represented by the oil used during the cooking. The filling around which the dalpuri is rolled is made up of vegetables, usually brède songe, rougaille pomme d’amour (‘touni’!), with gros pois or white beans depending on price; one must not forget the chillies which are optional – but which most buyers do not object to. So there you are, a complete food which has sustained and delighted generations of Mauritians of all origins, and which they continue to enjoy both on a daily basis and in particular on special occasions. Many dinners at home would be incomplete without dalpuris on the menu.
If the expert had anything to add, it was about the hygiene aspect where dalpuris sold in public are concerned, but there were also some points of nutritional concern. For example, one could use less oil during the preparation, and definitely avoid frying – which is quite often preferred by many – and used oil. Although it is white flour that is used for the shell, perhaps one could try to add some brown flour, which has what is known as a lower glycaemic index (less tendency to produce a rise in blood sugar level)?
Or perhaps not: after all, how many meals of dalpuris do we eat? If we count three meals a day, that’s twenty-one meals in a week. If we were to eat dalpuris daily for lunch, that would make seven meals in a week – by no means can this be considered excessive, especially if we take into account the ‘other things’ that lead to good health. On the other hand, come to think of it, we never even reach that number of dalpuri meals every week. Bottomline therefore is there is no problem eating dalpuris – but, as with everything else in our diet, moderation is the golden rule. And for that matter, for our Christian compatriots for whom that day is special and the meal too, if they also avoid excess, there is no reason why they should not enjoy their meal fully.
As for me, well, I’ll indulge in a good pair of dalpuris, because it’s long past since I have left meat and chicken behind, and I never really liked turkey because I found the meat too fibrous for my liking.
Merry Christmas to everybody!
* Published in print edition on 23 December 2010