The flavors of Mauritius come from cuisines far and wide. The Island of Mauritius was uninhabited by humans until the arrival of Arabs in the 12th century. Then the Portuguese and Dutch dropped by and eventually the French and British colonized the island. The Dutch used the island as a stopover port between Madagascar and India and later for harvesting the ebony tree. Slaves were brought from Madagascar to assist in that pursuit.
The French brought more slaves from the African continent in the 1700’s. Those slaves brought with them much of the African cultural foods and spices attributed to the flavors of Mauritius on the island today. French is still the main language of the island.
The British claimed the island in 1810 and slavery was abolished in 1835. To maintain the growing sugar cane industry the British secured indentured servants from China and Malaysia and eventually a large number from India. Much of the island today feels more Indian than African and Hinduism is the largest religion.
Today sugarcane remains the top crop of the island. Tea was once a major crop, but has declined over the years, but still is grown. Salt flats also once prolific have dwindled. Most grains are imported and many vegetables come from South Africa.
Today exploring the cultural foods of Mauritius is a colorful collection of the history of slavery, indenture and colonialism. Creole cuisine traces its history directly to those brought from the African nations to work the sugar cane.
While visiting Mauritius we enjoyed a wide variety of Creole foods, both traditional and Nuevo. Creole is a common cuisine enjoyed on the island and we ate it in several locations as well as took an intensive Creole Cooking Class from a local chef (Diary of a Foodie Lover) who helped us explore the flavors of Mauritius. In our class we learned to make a fish curry, octopus salad, and my favorite, the flat bread known as farata.
Other Creole items we have enjoyed include rougaille – a spicy tomato based stew with chicken or fish – as well as Gaiteau another spicy fried ball made from lentils or chickpeas that you eat almost like popcorn, and hearts of palm salad – one of the most popular dishes on the island. The key to Creole cooking is the spices, very reminiscent of Africa. Many families and chefs create their own secret mixture, with the most popular additions being turmeric, coriander, curry, garlic, ginger, mustard seed, star anise, cloves, cardamom and thyme.
A spicy condiment called piment crazer is served along side bread in most restaurants. Watch out! Holy cow it is spicy. Made with chilies garlic and lemon it will make your eyes water!
Prawns and fish are popular, of course, since this is an island. Marlin, not normally something you see on a menu, is favored smoked. You can find smoked marlin salads and sandwiches. Chicken is prolific. Although roti is traditionally an Indian bread, the use of roti as a wrapper for curry in the Creole style is common. Roti stands are abundant along the street and often have a very long line. It’s eaten for all three daily meals.
The term “coolie” was used in reference to those indentured servants who came from Asian countries, and although smaller in number their impact on the cuisine is still evident. The Asian immigrants are responsible for making rice a major part of every meal in Mauritius even though rice is not grown on the island.
While visiting we had Chinois food several times. Similar to Chinese and Malaysian dishes we have eaten around the world, except the rice is Basmati. Every rice dish we were served while on the island was Basmati. No Chinese sticky rice like what we are used to. Basmati is a key ingredient in the flavors of Mauritius.
As in all Asian cuisines, vegetables, rice and noodles play a big role, with protein more of a garnish. On our street food walking tour with Taste Buddies in the capital city of Port Louis we loved the boulettes, a French word for a Chinese dumpling served throughout the island by street vendors.
BBQ pork is also a popular dish – glazed with a cherry-honey mixture, the pork is served with fruit and not the spicy mustard we are used to from the USA.
And finally a very popular Chinese dish on the island is called Magic Noodles. It is a layered dish made in a bowl with a fried egg on the bottom, noodles and veg and then turned out onto the plate so the egg is on top. Very popular and very local.
If you come to Mauritius be sure to explore China Town in the capital city of Port Louis. Want to try Boulettes at home? Here is a recipe.
Indo-Mauritians (both Muslim and Hindu) have had a major impact on the island economically, politically, culturally, and certainly in the cuisine. Today’s Indo-Mauritians trace their ancestry to the indentured servants who arrived during the colonial era. Hinduism is the largest religion on the island, and much of the population originates from the Tamil region in South India.
We found Indian inspired foods everywhere, with some of our favorite flavors of Mauritius coming from street food vendors who prepare delicious roti (flat bread) stuffed with everything from vegetables to octopus, and samosa stuffed with potato and veg. We ate roti several times for breakfast, served hot off the grill at a vendor just down the street.
We learned a lot about this cuisine on our walking tour with Taste Buddies and enjoyed some local favorites like Dholl Puri, a light and delicate tortilla-like bread made from lentils. Sometimes stuffed with curry but often just stuffed with a spicy sambol sauce (sort of like salsa). Dholl Puri in Mauritius is always flat and soft, where in India it can be puffy.
We had a wonderful surprise when our Airbnb host brought us a full homemade meal of Dholl Puri. She made the delicious Dholl Puri herself and served it for us with Chicken Curry with potato and peas and along side some pickled vegetables and sambol. It was by far the best rendition we had on the island.
Our favorite Indian meal was at a restaurant close to our apartment called Zub. The service was excellent and the menu huge. We loved it.
Want to try Dholl Puri at home? Here is a recipe.
French influence on the cuisine is most evident in the abundant use of delicious baguette and other breads, puddings and desserts as well as bouillon, coq au vin and daube.
Although Mauritius was a French colony for a much shorter period than when the British held it, the French influence is greater in the culture. The food and the language are French but the British left behind left-hand side driving.
We made a point to try French cuisine while on the island. Although many restaurants have menu items that salute the cuisine, we visited one of the highest rated French Restaurants in the town of Black River called Bistrot de la Poste about thirty minutes from where we were staying. The owner, a French man who was raised in Basque Country, chatted with us and welcomed us to his restaurant while we enjoyed a remarkable selection of French food and wine. The menu included canard, foie gras, frites, entrecote, and a lovely selection of French desserts.
The island also grows its own coffee, and it is often served in the French style – strong and black. We tried three different locally grown coffees, all pretty good. Locals are very proud of their local brew, and you won’t find a Starbucks anywhere on the island. Most cafes we visited also served as a boulangerie and patisserie and included a wide selection of French style desserts and breads.
The majority of visitors on the island are French, but there are also many guests from other countries around the world from honeymooners to families. This means in addition to the incredible selection of foods mentioned above, you will find pizza, pasta, burgers, sushi and a wide variety of other internationally loved dishes.
Although we try not to eat out often in our travels (in an effort to stay on budget), we did try all the cultural influenced cuisines at least once during our six week visit. Food is the best way to learn about a place, to meet the locals and experience the culture and Mauritius is a tasty tapestry of delicious history, people and food.
Just for you – I continue my quest to eat the world. I hope you enjoy!
Check out our blog about the wildlife preservation efforts on Mauritius.
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