By Cedric Deschambeaux
I have nothing against horse racing, but the reason I went to Champ de Mars is completely different from other people’s i.e., not for the gambling or horse whipping but for the incredible street food and the vicinity. It is an incredible bank for street food in Mauritius.
I have to admit that even though I am not a great client of Champ de Mars (CdM), I can sometimes go for major events like the Maiden Cup which, other than the gaming part, also forms part of a cultural heritage for Mauritians. I had always been reluctant to go due to the vehemence of people, conspiracy theories on fixed races or even the pickpockets. Nevertheless, the liveliness of the place and the food culture greatly offset those setbacks and are always a good attraction, with marchands everywhere hollering badia so so… dipain frire, made with the greatest love and blazing hot like Brad Pitt in Troy with his blond hair, besides pain tikka or other pain fouré. They always say mamas food is the best, but have you ever tried the dipain le fwa or the socisse one?! It’s a fierce explosion of taste for your taste buds and it feels like I am eating ambrosia – pardon my memory, but I have never been able to remember the shops’ name in CdM. Surely it is my upper west side Port Louis that’s taking the upper hand.
Another option is the roti special which never disappointed me, but I would like to open a parenthesis on this particular subject. Why does everyone say their roti is special…what is so special? We can agree that the roti is always delectable, melting, unctuous and rarely disappoints. What does the special mean? When it was a baby roti, did it already started playing violin… or started talking at 2 years? Let’s close this parenthesis for now (I will elaborate more on this next time).
Enough with starters, time to talk about the main course. Already 12:30, all my Rs 300 budget dedicated to gambling was already gone. I already forgot the names of the horses I betted on, but my ambition was only to participate and feel part of this CdM family by shouting the strange horse names. I was considering a mine bouillie or boulettes, but sitting places were scarce and there was high competition between customers to be served first, who we all know bring the vilest instincts in men: rudeness, violence, and no respect of who came first. I saw an innocent brittle man trying to get his order in this havoc and I was not ready for this kind of Olympiads.
Hope was not dead, there was another must-stop shop – which was also one of my favourites – the briyani – spicy, tasty, filling and perfect complement with beef, chicken or soya! Metaphorically, we can say that it is the distant cousin of fried rice originating from Plaine Verte: charismatic, friendly, and truculent. Of a giving nature, the briyani is really like someone on whom you can count in life. My order arrived and I immediately felt this sweet scent of voluptuousness flowing through my body. However, while eating, one of those useless plastic spoons broke with my first try of decanting that chicken and I had no other option than eating with my bare hands right from the takeaway. At some point, I was in awe with myself, and I felt that I completely grasped the energy of this place, no place for sophistication or other fancy stuff like spoons. It was one of those rare transcendence-in-immanence moments that belong to your Meta-State. There was definitely a before and a day after this day in my life.
At the pinnacle of pleasure, I noticed some beautiful women with eccentric hats and all the men were dressed mundanely with their tuxedo (in the aching sun of Port-Louis!) as if they were expecting the Queen or the Pope. “Who are these?” I asked an old man near me. I could not recall his answer, but it was just about disdain and resentment towards this elite. Why so much of hard feelings? The real drama and fun were down here. Like Jules Renard said: “Il n’est pas nécessaire de mépriser les riches, il suffit de ne pas les envier.”
The constant carnage, the gallops of horses, watching people going into a roller coaster of emotions when hearing the final results after a tight race, eating junk food like there is no tomorrow, chatting and jeering with strangers is what the horse racing day experience at Champs de Mars is all about. At least this is what I wanted to believe when I saw an aged and stylish man with pepper hair getting into his Range Rover that could have surely resolved all my financial problems. Joke aside, deep (very deep) inside my heart, I didn’t really care. Life is more than about having money or expensive cars. I do have an îlot Caramel at home that I am planning to devour in front of Liverpool match, and no money in the world can buy this.
Neither ascetic nor extremely original, food at CdM is undoubtedly similar to Mauritian culture; funny, high in colours and always generous. It is definitely a special place to be on weekends (at least once in your life). Despite the latest rumours that horse races might be located to a new region, CdM will forever be known as a home for all Mauritians by being firstly, warming, then exquisite and lastly hedonic.
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 17 June 2022
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