European food: I love Vanilla Beans in Black River. It is a cosy and a very nice family oriented restaurant. The tables outside offer an authentic casual feel to the place. Well-spaced out, you retain a certain privacy. The food has a healthy feel to it and is just gorgeous in taste. The staff is very thoughtful and make you feel at ease. They also have a little sales point where you can buy homemade cakes and other sweet things. They are however only open for breakfast and lunch.
Another restaurant that I absolutely love and would recommend to all meat eaters is Medium Rare steakhouse. Also found in Black River at the Ruisseau Creole shopping complex. Medium Rare serves some real quality food with sumptuous sauces. Their hot and spicy buffalo wings are to die for!
Chinese food: One of my favourite Chinese restaurants is the Grand Ocean city at the Caudan Waterfront. There are a lot of Chinese restaurants on the island and I enjoy the food in nearly all of them, but I’ve found a finesse in the meals at the Grand Ocean city that I haven’t found elsewhere. They also serve the greatest ‘Dim Sun’ (Chinese dumplings) twice a week that are really tasty and mouth-watering.
Another favourite of mine when it comes to Chinese cuisine is the Chinese Wok in Curepipe. I have never been disappointed eating there; the food is always of good quality along with a nice service in a warm atmosphere. It sometimes can be a little noisy and crowded, but I believe it only attests to their great reputation. It may sometimes be so busy you might not be able to have a table without a reservation.
Indian food: My very favourite Indian restaurant is the Happy Rajah in Phoenix. The restaurant itself is lush and luxuriant with beautiful furniture and warm colours. The food is amazing and very representative of India. From Tandooris to spicy Vindaloos and curry’s served with tasty Naan or aromatic rice, it is fascinating to the palate.
My most favourite street food, by far, is the Gateau Piment (Chilli bites). It is a dholl (split peas) paste enhanced with spices and herbs, deep fried in oil. The most common ones are small and round in shape. Sometimes, it is also found with a flatter shape and with a hole in the middle. Most are not particularly hot unless you bite straight into a chilli. It is best to eat it when freshly cooked and still warm. I like to eat it in many different ways: on its own for a quick snack, with a coriander sauce for added taste, in bread as a sandwich or mixed with tomatoes and onions to accompany bread or rice as a “chatini”. Gateau piments can be found in most places of the island. The Quatre Bornes market is very popular for theirs and I often stop there to buy some when passing through the town.
Most of the time though, Gateau piment vendors don’t only sell them, they also offer other different assortment of street food that are very nice too. Samosas are often amongst the ones I choose to buy, as well as fried bread/eggplant/potatoes in a batter. Some also offer ‘boulette arouilles’ which is made of grated yam.
My next favourite street food is the pickled fruit salad. Usually made out of mangoes, cucumbers, pineapple, and whatever other seasonal fruits they can find. They are cut and mixed in together in a small bag in a watery sauce with the option to add a little tamarind sometimes and a chilli paste or powder. My mouth always water just at the thought of those! Pickled fruit vendors can be found almost everywhere around the island. If you can’t find any, good places to look at are near markets or close to schools in the afternoons.
You cannot talk about street food in Mauritius without mentioning the Dholl purris, rotis and farata. Out of the three rotis are my favourite as I find them lighter and tastier, but should there only be dholl purris or farata available, I won’t be too fussy as I still do enjoy those quite a lot too! They are traditionally served with lima beans curry and a ‘rougaille’ (tomato cooked paste/stew), to which can be added some achards (pickled vegetables), songes and chilli. Two popular dholl purri merchants in Rose-Hill are ‘Chez Bye’ and ‘Dewa’. People also drive from far to get faratas in Solitude in a Caravan on the side of the road as they are really worth the extra drive.
“Boulettes” (Chinese dumplings) are a very popular street food that is readily available everywhere on the island. They are an acquired taste in my opinion and not everyone enjoys them, although they grow on you once you start liking them! My favourite ones are the ‘Saw Mai’ and the bouchons. The best places I have heard of to find nice boulettes, even though I haven’t tried them myself yet, are ‘Chez James’ in Port-Louis or ‘Tabagie l’oasis’ in Cassis.
A quick snack that I cannot resist whenever I see a merchant on the side of the road is peanuts. Peanuts merchants may offer their products boiled, salted or roasted. My favourite is the boiled ones, which is a little bit rarer than its two counterpart. My favourite place to buy peanuts is at the end of a horse racing day at the Champ de Mars.
From time to time, I will also have a ‘katless’ (a fried chicken or beef enrobed in spices) or a Biryani (spicy rice with potato and meat). The katless can be eaten on its own or in a bun for a handy hamburger. Briyanis, when traditionally made, is an explosion of spices in the mouth, and I especially love the melting potatoes mixed in with the rice and meat. Although both of these can be usually found in the food section of supermarkets, the best ones are found in the region of Plaine Verte, near Port-Louis.
Do you have any personal favourite traditional foods?
Rice being very present in Mauritian eating style, it’s no surprise that it is very well represented in my top five traditional food:
Rice, lentils and sausage ‘rougaille’: This is one of the most basic Mauritian dishes and one that I could eat every single day! The combination of those in a meal, accompanied by some pickled vegetables and mazavarou chilli, is just perfect!
Salted fish: Nowadays salted fish can be found already packed and ready to use. But the most savoury remains the traditionally made one from fresh salted fish. Fried on its own, or with some onions, combined in a ‘chatini’ or in a rougaille and served with rice, the taste of it lingers just enough in the mouth to create a colourful experience.
Bol renversée: The ‘bol renversée’, which as its name indicates is a meal served in a bowl which has been turned upside down onto a plate, is a simple yet delicious Chinese dish. The composition of the meal is rice, a chicken chop suey like sauce and a fried egg on top.
Mullucatawny: Mullucatawny is a soup like curry made out of very specific spices rendering flavours ;that are slightly different to a traditional curry. Usually served with rice and a chutney and of course some crushed chilli for a little extra burst.
Roti/Farata: And last but not least, served with any combination of curry, rotis and faratas remain one of my best Mauritian traditional food.
Is there a must-try food for any visitor?
The only thing I would like to add is that a great company to all these great food is our Mauritian traditional beer, widely appreciated by Mauritians and foreigners alike: the Phoenix beer.
Produced since 1963, the Phoenix beer is recognized for its great taste and has even received various international awards. It simply is a must for any social evening or holiday!
For the more adventurous foodie, are there any food markets that are good for local produce?
The most famous food/farmer’s market of the island is of course the Central market of Port-Louis. The market is very colourful and a wide variety of produce is represented. The fruits and vegetables are piled up in orderly fashion creating beautiful patterns of various shapes and textures: A feast for the eyes in a very typical ‘Mauritian’ and friendly atmosphere. Foreigners should be advised though to check for local prices before they buy and compare the prices of several vendors as Port-Louis market is known to inflate prices a little to visitors of our island.
Two other popular food market are the ones found in Quatre Bornes and Vacoas. In Quatre Bornes, although a few vendors seem to be there throughout the week, the official fruit and vegetable market occur on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The Vacoas market on the other hand is open on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Two less known markets as they are a bit more out of the way are the Flacq and the Mahebourg market. Although they can be as busy as their counterparts above, they are more open aired and less cramped than them. Very nice produce can also be found in those markets and sometimes at much cheaper prices too.
Mauritius is well-known for its festivals, are there any really must-see celebrations?
Religious holidays are times of celebration for the people holding a specific faith, but not only, as all the different celebrations are usually high in colour and rituals that are enjoyable for all to see and experience on the island. The most impressive ones are:
Thaipoosam Cavadee in January/February: Thaipoosam Cavadee is mainly celebrated by Hindus of Tamil origin. A fast usually precedes the festival for many days where the fervent purify his heart and soul. During that time, the cavadees are made out of timber and bamboo and decorated with leaves and flowers. Some of these cavadees may take gigantic proportions and are magnificent. The day of the festival consists of many rituals of offering and purification. The faithful, dressed in bright colours or bare to the waist, are usually pricked by long needles in different parts of their body. They will then hold the cavadee on their shoulders and walk with their friends and family for some distance to the temple where offerings and prayers are made.
Ganesh Chathurti in August/September: The celebration to Lord Ganesh is a joyful celebration for the Marathi community. A couple of days before the celebration, houses are cleaned thoroughly and festivities are prepared. Statues of lord Ganesh would already have been made out of earth and clay. Before sunset, the faithful will be seen carrying their colourful statues of various sizes to the sea or the riverbanks. After some prayers and chanting a few fervent will move into the water carrying the statues so that they can be immersed.
Chinese Spring festival in February: The Chinese Spring festival celebrates the New Year of the Chinese calendar. Families will gather together to celebrate. The lion dance is performed in various places on the day and during the weeks following the festival, to the great delight of children, along with firecrackers, which will drive off evil spirits.
Divali in October/November: Divali is the festival of lights celebrated by Hindus. Prior to the celebrations houses are thoroughly cleaned and decorated with lights. Some houses still use the traditional earth diyas whereas others have opted for the more modern chasing electrical lights. Most importantly, Divali is a festival of sharing. Cakes and other delicacies are prepared that will be shared and given during the celebrations’ evening.
Other celebrations have a little less visibility but are as important to the devotees of the different faiths. Those include Maha Shivaratree in February, Ougadi and Holi in March, Eid Ul Fitr in july, Father Laval’s day in September, All Saints day in November, and of course Christmas in December.
Along with these religious festivals, two cultural holidays have been added in the past few years to honour the ancestors that lead the path before us on the island:
Celebrating the abolition of Slavery on the 1st of February: A large portion of the Mauritian population are descendants of the slaves that were brought to the island to work on the large estates. Mauritius, being an important stopover during the slavery years played a part in that trade. Moreover, the island was known as the ‘Maroon republic’ due to the large amount of slaves that managed to run away from their owners to hide on Le Morne mountain. Le Morne today is symbolic of the slaves fight for freedom and has been classified on Unesco’s World Heritage list as protected cultural landscape. At its foot was erected the Slave Route momument to promote peace and as a reminder of the importance of freedom in our lives. Events and festivities are planned to celebrate the abolition of slavery on the 1st of February and a large crowd comes to gather and enjoy a day of togetherness.
Celebrating the arrival of indentured labourers in November: During these celebrations Mauritius commemorates the arrival of indentured labourers from India, another major milestone in the history of Mauritius. The Aapravasi Ghat in Port-Louis is a memorial to the first labourers that landed on the island and events are usually organized as a tribute to them.
How about National holidays, when are the major ones & how are they celebrated?
The National day of Mauritius is the 12th of March, which commemorates its independence from the British rule 47 years ago. During that day official national celebrations are held where we, as Mauritian citizen, are reminded of the values ruling our nation. On the day preceding that important public holiday, schools usually close at midday after a celebration of flag rising. Often, the school will invite an official who will make a speech for the children.
Other national holidays are the Labour day on the 1st of May and the New Years on the 1st and 2ndof January. At the beginning of the year, although these are the only two official holidays, it is customary for many businesses to close down for at least the first week of January.
During important festivals how should visitors to the country behave & what should they expect to find?
Mauritians are warm and friendly in nature and they are used to having visitors and foreigners in the country. I believe that the most appropriate way to behave during festivals is to be respectful of anyone’s faith and customs and not to interfere when they don’t know the meaning of what they are witnessing. However, an attitude of curiosity and openness to learn more is usually always welcomed and most people of all faiths will be welcoming and open to questions about the different festivals.
Are there any really fun festivals & traditions that should not be missed?
The walk on fire ceremony is a tradition that is always quite impressive to witness. They often are part of other festivities and rituals.
In 2012, Mauritius witnessed a fun festival in its first and last edition of a Carnival that took place in the coastal Village of Flic en Flac.
Mercury Holidays would like to extend our thanks to Priscille for her hard work and participation in our Ask the Expats project.