Mauritian Cuisine defines what fusion cooking is all about. With African, French, Indian and Asian influences, the food is exciting, bold and fresh flavoured. The best food can be found at the many street stalls that bring life to dingy back alleys and bustling city roads, but also inside the homes of the local residents of the island. I found that the simplest food made by the locals, far outweighed any of the fancy fare served at the high-end hotels and restaurants on the island.
If you are unfamiliar with the island, it is a small tropical hotspot fringed with a colourful coral reef off the coast off the east coast of South Africa. What Mauritius lacks in size, it makes up for in beauty. The volcanic island boasts some of the most beautiful rain forests, mountains and beaches I have seen. Although it has changed considerably since my last visit seventeen years ago, the east and South coast are still very much untouched from major development.
I spent most of my time with family on the east coast in a little town called Anse Jonchee. The town was tiny, scaling barely a 5 minute drive. This to me was a perfect getaway. My parents home is a beautiful property at the base of a mountain range, on-top of a staggering hill with picture perfect views of the ocean. Mornings were spent watching the sunrise light up the bay as fishing boats set out for the day at 5am. The ocean is forever changing in colour, from pale green to sparkling turquoise blue, it is the most calming sight to start the day.
Mornings were followed by a walk around the property picking wild papaya, bananas and passionfruit for breakfast. This was my meditation during a time of hardship. Before I left Melbourne bananas were at $14/per Kilo, imagine the joy I gained sitting under a ripe organic banana tree, plowing my way through a fresh hand. Passionfruit grows like a weed in Mauritius and we could barely keep up with the supply so it quickly became a repetitive christmas present for anyone who came to visit! Tropical fruit is ridiculously cheap, the markets are filled with bananas, logans, dragon fruit, star fruit, mangoes and lychees.
Breakfast is generally a French affair, a piece of freshly made baguette or croissant with butter and jam from the local Tabagie (milkbar), served with white tea. Nothing beats the sound of fresh bread breaking in the morning, however I much preferred eating freshly picked fruit and yoghurt.Lunch is a festive affair, from hawker food to a simple noodle dish called Mine Frite, the locals generally eat off the street. Dholl Poori, is an Indian inspired pancake made of cooked, pureed and dried yellow split peas, served with a spicy chutney and vegetable pickles. This is the most popular street food of Mauritius. In the small boating town of Mahebourg, the local Dholl Poori vendors battle it out to win customers in quite a small space. The local favourite, arrives at 10am to a swarm of customers queing to get their daily fix. He also has perfected Gateaux Piment, a spicy chilli cake rolled in the same chickpea mixture as the Dholl Poori, studded with chives and coriander. This is my favourite snack, crispy, textural and spicy. Of course no stall is complete without Samosa’s, Di pain Frier (crispy chickpea bread) Bhajii (deep-fried onion ring) and Roti Chaud. Imagine the best Indian food wrapped in a roti and served fresh daily, this is Roti Chaud. Like a Chappatti, it is filled with a butter bean curry, and spicy tomato based chilli sauce. Lunch can also be wonton soup, beef and black bean stir fry, Mien Bouillon (noodle soup) and chicken Biriyani.
Dinner is the most important meal of the day, the locals generally eat curries of breadfruit, chicken, deer, wild boar and crab served with faratas, achard (chilli pickled vegetables) and rice. Rouagaille (spicy tomato sauce) of assorted meat, palm heart gratin or lima bean stew is also a favourite. Dinner is served with a Toddy, which is essentially a night-cap. Mauritians love to drink Beer Phoenix, which is the national beer as well as French wines and of course a selection of rum served simply with ice and water. Mauritian’s love a sweet treat after a meal, whether it be their infamous banana tart, fruit sorbet, coconut or almond ice cream or caramel flan. Most Mauritian supermarkets have great bakeries attached where you can buy tarts, croissants and pastries. The local supermarket in Mahebourg cooked bread three times daily, fresh baguettes, crusty loaves and roti bread.
Market life is plentiful, bounties of just picked vegetables, exotic fruits, freshly ground spices and jars of spicy chutneys line rickety wooden tables in a bustling environment. Price wise it’s very affordable, portion sizes are much smaller though, for example a bunch of coriander is a 1/4 of the size of those in Australia. Although as most of the herbs are picked fresh daily, the aroma and taste is much stronger than I am familiar with. The market stalls are incredibly well kept, it is a great selling technique in visual merchandising when every second producer is selling the same goods. The scent of fresh herbs filled the air, row upon row of coriander, thyme, parsley, chives and basil. The colours burst, with fresh watermelons halved next to rosy dragon fruit and new season green and yellow mangos. There are even stalls dedicated to only selling tomatoes and believe me the tomatoes in Mauritius are incredible, its no wonder they are used so heavily. If you only get to spend a short time in Mauritius it is essential that you visit Port Loius and Mahebourg markets. A nice contrast between old and new.
Like ‘Mauritian time’, the food culture on the island is slow. From fast food on the street to slow cooked Biriyani the notion is the same, take time out from life to enjoy. Growing up, my Dad spoke so highly of Mauritian food and culture, it was as if they had discovered something that we hadn’t, discovered the notion to happiness and longevity. I think overall Mauritians just want to live life, to take time to enjoy the environment, family and friends, they laugh at the idea that a career will provide lasting happiness. If anything, this ideology is practiced in a way which it is not here, at 5pm people are at the beach, enjoying a drink with friends, sharing a meal, it is a reminder of what is important and a return to an easier way of life and slow living…..