On a recent trip to the Indian Ocean my taste buds were taken on a culinary tour of the wonders of Mauritian food, featuring delicately spiced dishes, French classics and mouth-watering street food.
Not one morsel passed my lips that was not prepared with an outstanding dedication to food. I became Pac-Man – chomping my way across the island in search of the next culinary marvel. I was not disappointed.
I had never experienced a country that had so much versatility woven into its culinary fabric. I believe this stems from the islands’ heritage which has Creole, European, Indian and Chinese influences. Let’s not beat around the bush – Mauritius is a perfectly beautiful island full of lush vegetation and dreamy sea vistas. But the reason I enjoyed my holiday on the island was, to put it succinctly, the food.
When I stayed at the LUX* Le Morne resort, for example, I experienced the culinary fusion that would continue throughout my trip. Lunch was a selection of Chinese influenced dishes of which my favourites were the delicate spring rolls (served as an appetiser before most dinners), the wide variety of rice dishes with meat or fish offering a sweet but nutty satay flavour plus an underlying heat of ginger and chili.
The ice cream parlour was on hand to take the heat off our tongues (at least, that was my excuse). A double scoop was entirely necessary and a naughty way to cool down after an afternoon on the beach. I highly recommend the passionfruit and coconut flavour.
Dinner moved on to a classic French affair with all courses (apart from dessert) showcasing different aspects of seafood. We started with a lobster bisque, sweet and smoky in the same mouthful but never overpowering. Moving onto a crab and pea soup, topped with edible flowers, was a smart move. The main course was a grilled snapper whose crisp skin was complimented by a pomme purée. The sticky and sweet passionfruit cheesecake was the perfect end to the dinner.
My first experience of Mauritian curry, which I had been itching to try, was in Port Louis when we stopped for lunch at the Caudan Waterfront. The first thing that struck me was the deep red colour of the curry and the thick cream-infused sauce, accompanied by roti, pickled vegetables and green chilli paste, for extra heat.
The taste was sublime with the chicken fully permeated by a balance of spices from the marinade leaving a glowing sensation on the palate. The green chilli paste worked well with the dish; a word of warning a little goes a long way. Trying too much will leave you guzzling water. The roti came into its own when all that was left was the luxurious sauce at the bottom of the bowl.
The next evening at the Veranda Pointe Aux Biches I took the opportunity to try babonne, a fish that is native to the reefs and lagoons you find around the island. Its pink hue reminded me of hake. The fish was poached and melted in the mouth.
Oh, and the soup was served in a teapot by a chef who had been inspired by our British addiction to tea. The course was caramelised pineapple with duck. I’ve had duck a number of times with port or berry sauces but never with pineapple. It won’t be the last time I have the duo as they complement each other nicely.
The following night saw us dining at Chateau Mon Desir attached to the Maritim Resort and Spa. Here we celebrated a worldwide French food evening called Goût de France (Taste of France) ably representing Mauritius-French gastronomy.
Our first course of prawns and scallops, however, were presented in a way that was new to me. The scallops were served carpaccio with a passion fruit reduction while those gorgeous prawns were wrapped in thin ribbons of pastry called kadaifi.
My main of Beef Rossini was utterly succulent, and accompanied by a truffle potato mousseline, a marriage made in heaven. We ended our Goût de France evening with a Grand Marnier laced soufflé, perfectly light and fluffy. I could have easily consumed another.
The next day we embarked on a Mauritian street-food tour. We travelled towards the northern town of Grand Baie, pausing to meet a chap who owned a fresh coconut stand on the beach. He gave a demonstration of how to correctly open a coconut and drinking the water straight from it was as true a taste of paradise as one could hope to get.
Refreshed, we pressed on into Grand Baie where lunch waited at a bustling backstreet cafe which specialised in steamed dumplings. The queue was already pretty big, showing how popular it was with the locals; always a good sign. Once at the front of the queue I was given a bowl with a selection of the dumplings, including lamb, chicken, prawn and tofu smothered in a tasty broth. I grew concerned for my waistline. Several days on the island and not an average meal in sight. In fact, after every dish I wanted to order more and more. I became, in short, insatiable.
Not long after lunch we found ourselves at two street food stalls squeezed between a busy footpath and a very pretty beach. Again, these tiny stalls were proving very popular with the locals who were idly consuming their lunch on nearby benches looking out over the crystal clear waters. Not a bad looking island at all.
My street food favourites were spicy bites and dhal puri roti. This was food made with love. The spicy bites (a popular snack in these parts) were light and crispy with a blend of spices that left two sensations in your mouth: gentle heat and the desire for more.
However the roti was the absolute star of the show, this time made with chickpeas, cumin and the king of spice, turmeric. A spoonful of curry paste was placed in the middle of the roti and rolled into an envelope that encapsulated the taste of the Indian Ocean in one small parcel. I lost all sense of deportment and awareness of my fellow guests. My senses were in thrall to this spicy delight. I saw no other thing that could take its place in the world. I ate the lot.
At another bustling public beach we had our first taste of ripe pineapples, which at first glance didn’t seem anything out of the ordinary. However we soon understood why we had been brought to this unassuming spot; the gentleman proceeded to shave the pineapple with a scarily sharp knife, trimming back the leaves, quartering it, then deftly carving the eyes from the flesh in spiral fashion, a culinary work of art. Presently, I was handed a pineapple lollypop, whose remaining leaves allowed easy access to the juicy fruit chunks, you see.
Before I could tuck in, mouth wide open, fangs revealed and eyes rolled back in the hypnotic state that accompanies moments of such wild abandon, I was asked if I would like to have mine the traditional way, which is smothered in chilli and tamarind sauce. Well, what can you say? Something about Rome and romans I imagine. The man from Hayes & Jarvis – he say YES!
There, overlooking the beach, the sweet pineapple and sour tamarind combined with chilli heat produced an epiphany. Suddenly, I was projected home, basking in the glow of newfound respect from friends at a dinner party all saying the same thing: chilli with pineapple! Oooh, Darren, you spoil us with your Mauritian influences!
Our next stop on our Mauritian food tour would take us to Cap Malheureux (famed for its little red-roof Chapel). Here we would have our sweet tooth satisfied. Again.
This time our vendor was selling homemade ice cream which was perfect antidote to the spices and sultry Mauritian climate. Does this island do anything badly, I wondered, as I slurped a strawberry and coconut ice cream shake on a stick. I could feel the steam rising off me causing its own mini-weather pattern above my head.
Later that evening we were desperate to try the Otentik (authentic) cooking experience at the Ravenala Attitude All Suite Hotel. We approached a worktop awash with lots of colourful ingredients. Now it was our turn and we were tasked with concocting one of the main courses for the evening: the renowned Mauritian chicken curry.
The thing I liked most about the cookery class was the fact that there were no measurements, so you could add as little or as much of what you liked into the wok. So, sweat down the onion first, followed by the chicken to brown, then handfuls of whatever was fancied, off-the-cuff cooking as seen in homes all over Mauritius. I was pretty chuffed by my effort and made a mental note to be a little less detail-orientated when I cook at home.
Don’t be surprised if you’re invited to a wine and cheese tasting on this tropical Indian Ocean isle. Mauritius is still defined by its French Connection. It runs through the island like blue veins through a soft cheese. At the Outrigger Resort and Spa we had 5 different cows, sheep and goats cheese. The cheese was flown in from a master cheesemaker who usually plies his trade in the South of France. There are cheese boards and then there are cheese boards. This definitely was in the upper category of plateau à fromage.
My personal favourites were the Morbier from the Franche-Comte region; a semi soft cheese with a thin line of blue running through the middle, just the right amount for my liking. My other cheese of choice was the Cantal, from the region of the same name. This was also semi-soft but with a strong, nutty flavour having being made with spring milk.
Nearing the end of my time on the island, our hosts seemed determined to send us back to the UK a few pounds heavier and served up a spectacular 4 course meal at Le Chateau De Bel Ombre at the Heritage Le Telfair Golf Resort and Spa for an evening that encapsulated Mauritius’s French history fused with local twists.
The starter was a game lover’s paradise presented 4 different ways: wild boar, cured ham, venison rillettes, wild hare terrine and pheasant presse; nothing to see here but a man eating food grunting at his nearest neighbour.
Never judge a book by its cover. The soup course followed which on paper didn’t inspire me, a simple butternut squash. This was the most luxuriously, velvety version I have had, served with palm heart cream, marlin mousse, salmon roe and a parmesan crisp that was sweet rather than savoury. I was in good hands. These are chefs at the top of their game.
The rack of lamb that followed had been massaged with Bel Ombre spices, and drizzled in a glossy rosemary and Pinot Noir reduction, it was cooked to perfection (rare please) and the potato gratin and seasonal vegetables were a classic accompaniment.
I was the envy of the table when I was presented with a tarte au citron topped with 3 light meringues dappled with a raspberry compote. What a fantastic way to end the week of unbelievable Mauritian food experiences.
And I’m so sorry if I have not mentioned the beautiful landscape and friendly locals. I’m afraid most of my time was spent looking at the food on my plate. It was, without doubt, the best eating holiday I’d ever been on and I thoroughly recommend you try something similar for yourselves. Go on, you deserve it.
So, if you are a foodie who loves nothing better than a topical beach, dreamy lagoon vistas and breathtaking sunsets then Mauritius must top your travel-wish-list. This paradise will cater to all of your culinary needs, from fine dining to delicious local dishes and addictive street food experiences. The next time I visit this glorious island, I’ll be sure to pack a larger pair of trousers – just in case I run into another street food stall, or two.
Has Darren’s food fest in Mauritius inspired you to travel with your taste buds? Visit our foodie holidays pages for more inspirations for epicurean travel.
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