Can you imagine a wedding in a place as lovely as this?
I’ve asked my friend, writer Pooben Narayanen, to tell us how the locals do it.
Venison Vindoo, Mauritian Style
No matter how small or how big, weddings require a lot of work. In Mauritius you almost need to recruit an army of people to help out. When my cousin got married in 2001, wow! Did we have our hands full.
My family in Mauritius is of Tamil ancestry. We tried to keep some of the old country culture, particularly for weddings, although I am told that things are done differently back there.
Aside from the wedding itself there are two important functions: the wedding eve dinner and the vindoo lunch, a post-wedding reception. The vindoo lunch is hosted by each wedding side separately. It is considered bad luck to do it together.
In the days before the wedding, no alcohol or meat is to be served. After the wedding at the vindoo it’s no holds barred and the majority of Tamil-Mauritian families will butcher a goat. They make the most delicious curries you can think of.
Our curries are not as peppery as you would find in South India. We place emphasis on the blending of spices and tenderness of the meat. Chilli hot is not our style. Besides chilli hot does not help in 30+ degrees, when you’re wearing your best sari, dress or suit, and also enjoying a cocktail or whiskey.
On my mom’s side we don’t do goat for the vindoo; we do deer. My granddad was a game warden and supposedly one of the best shots of his time. So my mom and her family all grew up on venison. And when they got married somebody would just go out and bag a deer. So that’s what was on the menu.
The in-laws’ side of the family pay the bride to eat. Same on the other side of the family where they pay the groom to eat. (Like wedding presents)
My uncles got a good deal from one of the game reserves, and the bride’s side wanted to serve deer for their vindoo, too. We were told that they would be bringing in two freshly killed deer on the eve of the wedding. We had been busy preparing the house and marquis for the wedding eve dinner and now we also had to cut and quarter two deer. One of my uncles managed to get his hands on a huge fridge to store the carcasses. The butchering was to take place after dinner.
As we were setting up decorations that afternoon, when I heard a car horn. Someone yelled that the deer had arrived. One of my eldest cousins sat grinning behind the wheel of a really old rented car. “Where’s the truck with the deer?” I asked.
He just smiled. “We managed to fit both carcasses in the boot of the car.” He popped open the trunk. “Two does, freshly killed this morning.”
They had been gutted, but not skinned. He had placed banana leaves underneath and on top to keep them clean. Whose job was it to carry them to the fridge? That was mine, my brother’s and two other cousins’. The cousin who had brought the deer wasn’t getting his hands dirty!
Now the front of the house was covered by a huge marquis with the tables and decorations set up. My aunt was not going to allow us to bring the carcasses through the front door. This meant going through the neighbour’s yard and carrying them over a wall.
My brother and one cousin and I got the carcasses out of the trunk and over the wall. The other cousin had disappeared. Thankfully we were able to hold onto the deer by the legs. Mind you, it was not that easy to keep them clean. Everyone gave us instructions, but nobody wanted to help!
As we placed the deer in the fridge my brother noticed powder burns from a gunshot on one of the deer’s hind quarters. We spread a rumour that when my cousin had to pick up the deer, they had shot the first one and he was given the honour of shooting the second one which was tied up. He was such a lousy shot that he hit it in the ass!
Our worries were not over yet. These deer had to be quartered and butchered. After the wedding eve dinner, after the dancing, when everyone had bedded down or gone home, it was time to get to work. The garage became a temporary butcher shop. It was one a.m. by then, but it had to be done as we were having our vindoo right after the wedding the next day.
One of my uncles had set up a hook and hoisted one carcass. He had been out hunting a few times so he knew what to do. We first had to skin the deer. I was okay with cutting the meat but I left the skinning part to my uncle, the outdoorsman. My cousin decided that if his dad could do it so could he, and the older guys decided to give him a go. He was pretty good, but then he got too cocky. They kept telling him to slow down, but he wasn’t listening. He kept going on and on that he was going to get it done in no time. Then the knife slipped. Oh man! He had sliced his finger pretty bad. Thankfully, it didn’t require stitches.
“We’d better find that part of the finger,” my uncle said, “or someone might end up eating it.”
When my cousin slipped away, we were all complaining that he had bailed. But nope, he come back with a pan, oil, onions, pepper, salt, small green chillies, some cola and a bottle of rum. He found two big bricks and some wood and got a fire going. He set the pan on the fire. While it warmed up he made each of us a rum and coke.
He chose a piece of filet and chopped it into small pieces, spicing it with salt and pepper. Once the pan was hot he added the oil and fried the onions and chillies before adding the meat. Man! It was perfect.
It had started drizzling and the temperature had dropped so the venison snack was just what the doctor ordered. My cousin and I wanted more. We even went to scrounge some bread, but my uncle was having none of it, reminding us that it was for the guests. It was an excellent night and we finished at around 4 a.m. We had to be up by 6:30 that morning for the wedding.
For the vindoo, everyone complimented us for our cutting and butchering skills, although my aunt, who was in charge of the cooking, complained that a filet was missing. My uncle told her that it was a skinny deer, but she didn’t buy it.
I’d say Pooben and his family did well to tear themselves away from the beach to do all that work for the wedding. Just look at what he was missing!
About Pooben Narayanen
Pooben Narayanen grew up in Mauritius, the United Kingdom, and Canada. He holds two bachelor degrees from McMaster University, Canada and a Master’s degree from Sydney University, Australia.
He lives in Mauritius with his wife and two children. The Mount Hope Explorers Club and the Great White is his first book.
You can find “The Mount Hope Explorers Club and the Great White” on amazon.com