It is easy to make magic in Mauritius, believe me. I have only been once and have yearned to return ever since.
The view from the air is incredible as you bank and sweep over the island to land at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport (yes, I struggle with the name!). Stunning white beaches, a central plateau and mountains dotted around the centre, encompassing small villages alongside luxury villas and hotels.
Mauritius is just over 2,000 sq.km, but boy, does this island pack a punch, from the mixture of residents to so many dining opportunities and an eclectic range of cuisines. In most of the country Mauritian Creole is the language spoken, but many inhabitants speak French and English. This is even more highlighted by the food – essentially Creole and French, but once again, there are smatterings of Indian, Chinese and African food. English food, well, not so much unless you bundle it up with American standard food such as fried chicken and burgers, along with a ubiquitous bowl of chips! You can also get the obvious pastas and pizzas, but unless you want a ‘grab and go’, stick to the island delights, you will not regret it.
No visit to Mauritius would be complete without the delights of the capital, Port Louis. A bustling and vibrant town, with fantastic markets and street food, not to be missed. You can very easily spend a whole morning and into the afternoon there (not too late as it does get very hot). Save some time for the beach!
After a day relaxing (long distance travel and I are not best friends and it took almost 13 hours on the plane), we went into Port Louis to soak up the atmosphere of this delightful island. We had a guide to take us round the back streets as well as through the markets and street food stalls that she knew were the best. Experience really does matter.
Sampling the local snacks whilst sitting on an uncomfortable seat is apparently ‘how you do it’. You do not take it away; you just sit and eat. Listening to the locals gabbling away in a mixture of French and I guess, Creole, was intriguing but almost impossible to understand. Being a kindly local bunch, they quickly broke into English and more standard French, which I can also speak. Phew! That was a relief!
Yummy treats awaited us – gateaux piments (deep fried chilli cakes) were crisp and spicy made from chickpeas, spring onions, coriander and very strong green chillies. Our street trader offered us extra chilli sauce which we liberally applied – big mistake! You could say they were an upgraded version of a falafel, but a whole lot spicier!
I love ‘roti’ and this is what we had next. Such an assortment of toppings to dollop on your unleavened flat bread. The trader, a quite large lady dressed in bright colours offered us several topping to taste, but by far our favourite was the ‘rougaille’ – a delicious Creole sauce made from a base of tomatoes, but we were informed that every family makes them differently. We thoroughly enjoyed ours, made from onions, curry leaves, garlic, thyme and ginger – maybe there was some coriander in there too? This was not going to be the last time we tasted this wonderful sauce – we dined in a small beachside restaurant along the coast and sampled their Creole Sausages with Rougaille and Rice. My colleague boldly stated she would have preferred mashed potatoes with it! The sausages were cooked in probably the biggest pan I have ever seen and left to fry off in their own natural fat. The fact that the place was totally crowded means it was good, in fact, excellent.
As you can see, I could wax lyrically forever about Mauritian food, so I will just get to the amazing dinner we had with a local family. ‘Mama Mimi’ as she is locally known was born in Mauritius but moved to France when she was 7 years old. She moved back to Mauritius when she was 20, so she knew her ‘onions’ about French food, as colloquial speak would say. We could not believe the size of what can only be called a banquet – all for five of us!
Dholl puri, butter bean curry, spicy fish balls, fish vindaye (made with indiscernible fish), pickled fish with onions, turmeric and mustard seeds and a garlic and ginger sauce) appeared as if by magic on the huge table outside. It was a vibrant shade of yellow but OMG! How delicious was this?
There were roti, plenty of them to mop up the sauces afterwards. Mimi cooked the roti on a flat griddle called a ‘tawa’. There was no sign of anything that a carnivore would enjoy, but I love fish anyway. It is also one of the staple foods of the island.
Whilst so hospitable and friendly, Mama Mimi would not divulge her recipes to me. I have tried to recreate the fish vindaye many times, have come close, but not quite there. Another trip maybe?
There were so many more dishes we tried on our trip, all with spicy elements, so I was grateful to calm my stomach down with amazing grilled lobster at yet another beachside restaurant.
One thing I learned (rather too late) is to turn down chilli now and again, by saying ‘pah for’ – that means ‘not spicy’. Is this a turn on the French ‘pas fort’ – I still do not know!