Of macatia coco and the ‘cultural appropriation’ of food
All of us freely enjoy some items from each other’s cuisine, and we have never had any issue
I don’t know about elsewhere in the country but in Curepipe at least proper macatia coco has been available for some weeks now at a bakery. In an article that I wrote in December 2015 on the subject, titled ‘Macatia Coco Is No Longer What It Used To be!’ and which brought me responses from those with whom it resonated, I concluded as follows: ‘Maybe some vendor will surface someday in my remaining lifetime, and if this happens I will rush to the street before he disappears and call out marchand, marchand! I know there’s a slim chance for this to happen, but hope lives eternal in man’s heart, doesn’t it?’
The allusion was to the traditional vendors on bicycle who used to do the rounds, especially around school leaving time for the benefit of the schoolchildren, and as I described then these were genuine, home-made macatias: ‘They were a lovely brown, and the dough was made of white flour slightly sweetened. The consistency was firm, and since they were meant mainly as a snack for school-going children, each macatia was of a smaller size that would easily fit into a child’s small palm. They were kept warm by the vendor, and as he took them out from his tente and handed over to the buyer, there was a subtle, nicely sweetish aroma that came up; I think it was partly vanilla flavoured as well.
Of course one didn’t wait to bite into the bun, and as the centre was reached, there was the delight awaiting: the chips of fresh coco rape were stuck to the brown sugar (careful: I am talking of sucre roux!) that had melted and spread into the surrounding pulp. And it was sheer pleasure to chew and munch.’ For adults too of course!
The ones available now come as close as can be to the home-made ones because there are no more any marchands plying this traditional trade. Still, one must be grateful for small mercies, especially those that bring back the nostalgia of olden days in a world which in ten years’ time will probably be unrecognizable from what it is now!
So my newly-found macatias are not as compact, and are therefore somewhat softer in consistency, and slightly larger in size. Further, it’s white sugar instead of brown. However, the most important ingredient is there: the freshly grated coconut chips, and not the poudre coco which is to be found in the commercial ones that I wrote about then – and I wouldn’t know whether they are still being made and sold. But I hope not!
The other day I was listening to a radio programme about the ‘cultural appropriation’ of food. This was high-sounding so I became curious and paid attention. The main ‘problem’ that was being debated was whether people not belonging to a given cultural or ethnic group had the right to deal in food preparations coming from some other culture or group. For example, does an American White of Anglo-Saxon origin have the right to open a restaurant serving Mexican food dishes to which he may have made some slight variations, still call it Mexican and make money from such ‘appropriation’? The guy being interviewed said that he had spent some years seriously learning the trade in Mexico, and to boot his mother-in-law was Mexican. She did not find anything wrong, so what was the problem as long as he acknowledged the origin of the food recipes?
Similarly, a Black American complained that White Americans had copied on the deep-fried chicken that was a specialty of his community in the south and were commercializing it as their own. I did not catch whether there had been an acknowledgement of the origin, which may have been the point of contention and I would think probably justified in this case. But really, if that had been done, would there be any reason for objection?
Came the turn of a Chinese lady, who was American born. She had an outlet where she served both Chinese and American dishes. She pointed out how, for other Americans, Chinese and such foods were described as ‘exotic’ or ‘ethnic’. But, as she pointed out, she was an ‘outsider-insider’ so for her there was no question of cultural appropriation as she was used to both types of cuisine… though for the life of me I wonder whether you can glorify KFC and burger and chips with the term ‘cuisine’!
I thought that ‘cultural appropriation’ in food matters would be such an alien notion in our local context, where we have mutually enriched our food tastes and habits with varieties and flavours coming from all our continents of ‘origin’. I suppose if someone were to be interested from an academic point of view, he could go and find out, for example, who got the brilliant idea of offering such a delight as macatia, better still when it is ‘cocoed’, to his compatriots. But would we be so daft as to go on a war about who made it first, and why someone else is making it on a large scale?
And similarly for all other foods that we consume here. We find non-Indians for example selling faratas, Indians running restaurants in which they also serve Chinese food, and so on and so forth. All of us freely enjoy a number of items from each other’s cuisine, and we have never had any issue. If anything the ‘borrowing’, if I may use this term, only keeps expanding, which is all the better for our plates, our palates, and our health too as we have a wider selection to choose from.
Like bread – how this French item has got into our moeurs seamlessly in much the same way as dalpuris and faratas made their way in the other directions! From the simple pain maison and small moule that we grew up on and with, we have now at our disposal such a wide range of breads that we have to prepare the appropriate dishes to accompany them! Who is the Mauritian who does not miss his crunchy baguette or pain maison at breakfast when he has been away for some time in a country where they are not available?
It certainly is the case for me! Forget about them in the UK and the US. In India formerly they were completely unavailable, but fortunately nowadays one can source them from some 5-star hotels. I was recently there for about a week, and so was able to enjoy my morning fare daily.
The end-word? Let us continue to delight in the rich, explosive mix that is Mauritian cuisine. Ene bon satini… et bon appétit!