Mauritius is an interesting place for a number of reasons. The main motives behind our recent trip there were relaxation and visiting friends, but once I’d started reading up about it I realised that there was a bit more to the place than just beaches and hotels. Its population is roughly the same as Brussels, and it’s almost as much of a melting pot. There is no indigenous population, but successive colonisations by the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British have left it with a mixed population speaking primarily French, English and Creole, with large Hindu and Muslim communities and a smattering of Chinese. This also, unsurprisingly, makes for a delicious blend of cuisines.
The main crop grown on the island is sugar (and as a by-product they make some rather excellent rum, of which more later), but this being a tropical island meals feature a lot of seafood and fresh fruit too, much of which is on display at the markets like the one below in the capital Port Louis.
Over on the eastern side of the island in Mahébourg, we stopped for lunch one day at a place called La Belle Kréole. We took a chance on it; we’d been looking for another place recommended by Lonely Planet, but couldn’t find it (we later discovered that it had changed name in the meantime), but I can’t imagine it being much better than where we ended up.
First a glass of the local beer, Blue Marlin. Phoenix is actually a more popular Mauritian brand, but I found Blue Marlin to be more flavourful. My wife insisted that it tasted and smelled slightly of bananas, but I’d put that down as a pregnancy hormone-induced olfactory hallucination.
For the starter we shared a selection of little fried balls of fish, wild boar and manioc, with some spicy ketchup to dip them in.
Then for the main I chose a taster of four different curried meats – crab, pork, beef, and the one on the top right I can’t remember, but it was all good.
After the meal they insisted we try a rum arrangé, which was flavoured with cinnamon and star anise. I would happily have downed a few more of these but it was only lunchtime and I had to stay sober enough to navigate our hire car back to the hotel.
At “Le Château” on the grounds of the golf course adjoining the hotel I also found a new (to me) fish to eat, called “sacréchien”. Googling has proven inconclusive but I’m fairly sure that in English it’s the elegantly named Rusty Jobfish. And with a little asparagus and a creamy sea urchin sauce it goes down a treat.
Wandering around the small towns along the quieter south coast of the island we saw innumerable little kiosks, often little more than a box on wheels, or a hut adjoining someone’s house, usually selling Indian-style snacks like roti and paratha. They often had long queues, and having tried a spicy roti at this stall in St Felix I can see why.
Once I’d spent some time living in Italy I became something of a pizza snob, preferring only authentically Italian versions with minimalist toppings, sneering at my compatriots who seemed to dump entire meals, whether British (sausage and gravy), Indian (tandoori chicken) or Chinese (Peking duck) on top of their pizzas. And then I went to Mauritius and not only did I see a chicken and prawn curry pizza, but our friend the Italian chef tucking eagerly into one. Well then of course I had to try it myself.
Not at all bad, to be honest, although I don’t think it would ever replace quattro formaggi as my default pizza choice.
And so to the sweet course. Well, yes, as I said before there’s a lot of fresh fruit, but for those craving something a little more candy-like, I found these at a local supermarket. Unfortunately they seemed to have missed out on the opportunity to broaden their range and include insulting versions like “P.S. I hate your guts” or “P.S. Get lost”.
But probably the best dessert I had on Mauritius was the one I, obviously, didn’t take a photo of. In the hotel’s “asian fusion” restaurant “Gin’ja” we were served an exotic fruit maki – basically thin strips of kiwi and pineapple in little rolls, dusted with coconut and dipped in red bean paste. Yum.