Just thinking about the food in Mauritius is enough to make your mouth water, from the delicious French-style crêpes served with local vanilla tea for breakfast to the delight of salade de palmiste (heart of palm salad) and the beguiling taste of fish vindaye (fish curry) for lunch, then a dinner of samoussas and gâteaux piments (chilli bites) from a street stall.
Many of the island’s top hotels have superb fine-dining restaurants and attract world-class chefs. Most hotels make an effort to showcase local cuisine and will have Creole and Indian nights at least once a week.
The true adventure of eating in Mauritius, however, is for the streetwise, since so many delicious – and cheap – dishes are available from roadside stalls or small restaurants that specialise in Creole food or European dishes with a local zest.
The influences on Creole cuisine are African and Indian, with a dash of French. The recipes of slaves and indentured labourers have been blended with French ingenuity to produce an array of irresistible dishes, most of which are mildly spiced. The Chinese influence has been confined to particular areas, such as mine (noodles) and the ever-popular fried rice.
A favourite local dish, available from street vendors, is dholl purées: thin pancakes, made from wheat-flour dough and ground split peas and cooked on a griddle. They are served plain, or rolled around a spoonful of rougail or brèdes, and wrapped in paper. The India-originating purée, with its African/French filling, is an example of Mauritius’s successful blend of culinary traditions. Rougail is a spicy condiment often made with pommes d’amour, the tiny cherry tomatoes that are grown and eaten all over the island. Brèdes are part of the daily diet of Mauritian country dwellers, cooked either plain or with meat or fish. They are green leaves – such as watercress, spinach, the leaves of tuber plants and Chinese cabbage – tossed with onions, garlic and red chillies in hot oil until the water has evaporated.
More substantial meals are also available from street sellers, such as poisson vindaye, seasoned fried fish coated with a masala of mustard seeds, green chillies, garlic and turmeric, often eaten cold with bread. Achards légumes, pickled vegetables mixed with spicy paste and vinegar, are also sometimes eaten with bread.
A popular Mauritian drink is alooda, sold on the streets and in markets by energetic salesmen praising their own product. It consists of dissolved, boiled china grass (agar agar) and sugar, which has been strained and allowed to set and then grated, to which is added water, milk, rose syrup and soaked tookmaria (falooda) seeds.
As you would expect, beer, wine and spirits are far more expensive in hotels than they are in local shops. Be sure to try some of the local rums produced on the island that are available in most bars. Many households and watering holes keep a variety of rhum arrangé, made by adding their own choice of fruit and/or spices to a large bottle of rum and leaving it to mature for a few months.