Since we can’t travel outside Gauteng province just yet, we’ve decided to do so with our tastebuds instead. The two of us have been cooking – and munching – our way through a menu of global cuisines from destinations we’ve travelled to or hope to visit in the future. So far we’ve made Turkish shakshuka, Indian Chicken Makhani, Italian one-pot lasagne, homemade pizza and risotto, as well as Moroccan cous cous salad. We recreated the fresh spring rolls from our Vietnamese cooking class onboard a junket in Ha Long Bay last year and I’ve even taken to baking – German apple strudel, berry pie and three-ingredient Nutella cookies. I’ve also experimented with Polish pierogi made in ice trays, homemade falafels and various freshly made hummus variations in search of the ideal one. We even made our own gluhwein to camouflage the taste of some el-cheapo wine that shall not be named.
Food is such a telling aspect of a destination. It’s intricately linked to a place and its people, the climate and seasons, and how the mountain air or coastal plains affect indigenous produce and traditional dishes. Hand-me-down recipes offer insights into age-old cultural traditions, while communal meals are indicative of how elders and guests are treated. Gathering around the dinner table with locals sheds so much light about how quality family time is spent on a slow Sunday afternoon.
Mauritius is practically South Africa’s ‘tenth’ province because it’s such a popular – and affordable international destination – for us whether you stay at an all-inclusive resort or decide to explore Mauritius beyond the resorts. This wealthy Indian Ocean nation is ideal for beach retreats, mountain trekking and nature escapes, road tripping and adventure sports. It’s also one of the safest and easiest countries to travel to, especially as a solo female traveller, or for your first trip abroad. Read: How to plan a Mauritius holiday for first timers.
Mauritian cuisine is reflective of it culturally diverse population, which borrows flavours from India, China and Madagascar which are fused with Creole influences. Whether you experiment with street food from a beach-side food cart, drop by the local marketplace, or dine at a gourmet restaurant, there’s always something flavourful to delight your tastebuds. Travellers who don’t opt for an all-inclusive resort stay and rather choose to rent an apartment instead, should consider buying breakfast meals in Mauritius that are delivered to their accommodation from the local supermarket. They sell local and imported products alongside fresh, locally-sourced ingredients that you can use to whip up some of my favourite Mauritian meals.
Starter: Palm Heart Salad
Just like its alluring name, this Mauritian delicacy has a unique ingredient that’s harvested on the island and surrounding Vanilla Islands like neighbouring Reunion. This luxurious dish is also called “millionaire’s salad”. After about seven years palm trees are cut down for the edible arm-sized tube that’s found in the centre of their trunks. This so-called palm heart is thinly sliced into small slivers that are served raw, either as a starter, or as a side dish. Palm heart salad is very delicate in taste and is often served with a light dressing or with a side of smoked marlin, another popular delicacy.
Street food snack: Dholl Puri
Dholl puri is perhaps my favourite because I grew very well acquainted with these Indian street food snacks during my six years at university, thanks to the Indian fast food restaurant on campus.
This popular vegetarian street food was brought to the island by the indentured Indian labourers who arrived on the island between the first half of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century. Around two-thirds of which settled permanently in Mauritius.
These wheat flatbreads (called puri) are fried on a griddle pan (or tawa) and stuffed with a dhal made of cooked and seasoned legumes, such as green beans, peas and lentils. Dholl puri is often served alongside curry, chutney and pickles, all of which create a burst of flavour with each bite. With time it has become an iconic Mauritian food. Dholl puri is widely found at food stalls across the country and is an ideal on-the-go snack.
Meaty mains: Mauritian Biryani
The scent of this fragrant meal wafts through households at dinner time. Long-grained Basmati rice is cooked along with meat that’s been marinated in plain, unsweetened yoghurt. The rice and meat are infused with a plethora of spices to create a vibrant flavour that harks back to its Indian heritage.
Mauritian biryani is not too dissimilar from Hyderabadi biryani. Aside from the slight difference in spices used, the key feature that makes Mauritian biryani stand out from its predecessor is that it uses potatoes. The Mauritian version lines the bottom of the deg (a metal pot) with potatoes, which absorb the spices that pool at the bottom. This also prevents the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot or being burnt. It’s a well-loved dish that’s predominantly served during festivities, such as weddings, engagements and religious ceremonies.
Vegetarian mains: Mine Frites
Chinese labourers were also brought to the island in the first half of the 18th century. Four decades later thousands of voluntary migrants set sail for Mauritius to become tailors, carpenters, cobblers and blacksmiths. They founded the Chinatown in Port Louis. And were soon followed by a second wave of voluntary migrants in the 1850s.
Traditional Chinese fried rice has been reimagined to suit Mauritian tastes and make use of local ingredients. This local variation is called Mine Frites or Mine Frire in Mauritian Creole. Fresh noodles are stir-fried in soy sauce and topped with spring onions and chilli.
For those who are not vegetarian, meat variations are also popular with most people adding the meat of their choice into the mix, mostly chicken, lamb or beef. As Mauritius has so much fresh seafood, prawns are also a popular topping – and by far my favourite variation.
Whether you walk the beaches, streets or neighbourhoods, you’ll surely find several food carts selling this delectable dish. Though it’s a standard menu item at more formal places too, such as rest stops, restaurants, hotels and villas. For the best tasting mine frites, head to Chinatown in the capital city. You could easily spend at least half a day here, exploring its streets on foot while popping your head into the shops and restaurants.
Dessert: Coconut Cakes
No meal is complete without dessert. Scrap that, life is not complete without dessert. If you’re looking for a sweet treat, try coconut cakes. Despite their name, they are actually sweet coconut-based cookies.
Coconut palms grow in abundance across the island, along crescent-shaped beaches and in forests within the island’s heart. And because they’re so readily available they are also commonly used in the kitchen, as a natural drink, in chutneys, as well as a variety of traditional dishes and desserts.
You might hear the locals refer to these cookies as gato coco or tomahto. Coconut cakes are made from grated coconut and sugar and you’ll find them in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and flavours.
Pin it for later!
TheShop.mu asked me to share some of my favourite Mauritian meals with you based on my two trips to the island nation in 2016 and 2018 with the Mauritian Tourism Board. All opinions remain my own, but you already know that! ;)