We have just spent the most idyllic week in Mauritius – a true tropical paradise in the Indian ocean, full of the friendliest people I have met, and some of the most delicious food I have eaten. Whilst I was sad to return to freezing London, it has been nice to be the only tanned person in the office, feeling relaxed and tranquil just before the Christmas silly season starts.
Mauritius is a true melting pot of cultures, having been discovered by the Portuguese and colonised by the Dutch, the French and the British. Slaves had been imported from Madagascar and Africa – and once slavery was abolished, labourers came from India to work in the sugar cane fields. Now around 2/3 of the population are Hindu, and most Mauritians speak at least English, French and Creole. The food of Mauritius replicates this melting pot, with a mixture of Indian, Asian and French influences which makes the most of the fish and tropical fruit available from the island.
Our hotel was the Paradise Cove hotel near Grand Baie in the north of the island. It truly was a paradise, and I loved starting every morning with a platter of both fresh fruit and a mixture of tropical fruits which had been preserved in spiced sugar syrup, which I poured on top of natural yoghurt. They also served a variety of pastries, hinting to their French cultural background, and the fresh bread was also light and delicious. You could also have the traditional fry ups, omelettes and cold meats (Andrew got rather addicted to the Creole sausages, with their touch of spice). The amount of fresh juices I drank also made me feel like I was starting to turn into a tropical fruit, but hey, my excuse was that I needed to stay hydrated for all that lazing by the pool and beach …
Lunches at the hotel tended to be more French and Asian style cuisines – salads, quiches and stirfrys, and dinners at the hotel were themed each night around Mauritian, Creole, French etc – but each theme making the most use of the local ingredients – especially beautiful fresh fish which was cooked in curries as well as on it’s own, topping ratatouilles and salads, and forming parts of gratins.
My favourite meal was when we travelled to the south of the island to Chamarel – also one of my favourite days of the holiday as I played with lion cubs and made friends with giant tortoises and Casela National Park, and also got to experience a traditional Mauritian meal.
Served on a banana leaf, we were dished up a portion of curry (Creole chicken for me – chicken pieces in a spiced tomato sauce, and venison curry for Andrew which was more spicy than mine), a pile of rice, a small selection of pickles, potatoes with some vegetables, a type of minestrone soup and a farata – a type of chapati. All I can say is wow. The combination of flavours and textures was fabulous, and it was actually really nice to have a piece of everything on your own banana leaf instead of taking things from a sharing platter on the middle of the table. I’ll definitely be trying to replicate this myself.
Also served alongside the meal was a red and a green chilli chutney. We were warned that the chutney was very spicy and boy the lovely owner wasn’t joking – it was hot, hot, hot! Whilst the chutney added a nice warmth to the curry in moderation, it was much too spicy for me and I left it to Andrew to dip into.
We had the faratas again when in Grand Baie for lunch – I had a French influenced goats cheese and lardon salad, but Andrew went for Mauritian sausage which came with farata, a thin tomato dahl and white boiled rice. That’s another dish I’ll be trying to replicate at home as the dahl was a great accompaniment to the rice and sausage, and gave the meal a welcome touch of moisture.
Another favourite was on Diwali – how lucky we were to be in a Hindu country for the Diwali celebrations, and the hotel organised several events for guests to participate in, including a blessing, lots of Indian sweets to try, and a traditional Indian meal. One of the starters was deep fried cubes of aubergine in a spicy tomato sauce which was simply outstanding – I need to try and figure out how to make this myself as it was seriously one of the nicest things I have eaten. We also had an Indian platter of various curries, dips and more rice and faratas (yum!) followed by Indian sweets and fruit skewers for dessert. Full to the brim and slightly drunk, we then hired a taxi to take us off to Triolet – a nearby village – where we had the chance to see the Diwali celebrations and lights first-hand. It was a brilliant experience.
Finally I’ll remember Mauritian food for the cooling sorbets and creamy ice creams. My favourites were mango sorbet and coconut ice cream – I’ll be searching for recipes so that I can make both of them at home.
So, to bring a touch of Mauritian sunshine back home, I plan to make the following over the next few weeks and months:
- Tropical fruits preserved in syrup and spices (pineapple with star anise is calling out to me at the moment!)
- Curried potato salad
- Fish curry served on a banana leaf with rice and dahl
- Sausage in Mauritian style sauce
- Deep fried aubergine in spices
- Coconut ice cream
I’ll keep this blog updated as I have the chance to make some of these Mauritian goodies – and if you have any recipe tips, please do use the comments section to share your ideas and recipes with me.