I’ve just returned from a 2 week holiday in Mauritus. I know you can hate me if you like. I’d hate me.
I don’t think I realised how much I needed the holiday, until we were a few days in and I realised just how good it felt to be relaxed. A good reminder that all work and no play is never good (though tough that is when you’re single handedly running your own business). Since returning I’ve felt so inspired to get in the kitchen and cook new dishes, and I’m sure that has to do with discovering a whole new cuisine that before, I knew very little about.
Mauritius is a tiny island, roughly the size of the inside of London’s M25 motorway, plonked in the middle of the Indian Ocean, around 1000 miles off the coast of Madagascar. It was the furthest I’ve ever been from home (I’m not a keen flyer), and my first visit to the continent of Africa.
It’s a country with a fascinating historical story, and a landscape totally dominated by sugar canes. Its history began with Dutch settlers in 1638, before spells of French and English ruling, and independence finally in 1968. With the addition of Indian, African and Chinese settlers it is a melting pot of culture, language (Creole, French and English), religion and food.
I usually make it my mission to find out about the food whenever I travel, I see it as my way of absorbing more about the culture. I was very lucky on this ocassion, there was a lot to be digested (literally!), and my travelling companions were happy to allow me to indulge this eager curiosity. During my two week trip we ate all the tropical fruits for breakfast, snacks such as rotis with all the extras for lunch, then usually visited a local Mauritian restaurant for the evening, sampling dishes such as Vindaye, Rougaille, and plenty of seafood.
I am sure I will be exploring lots of Mauritian recipes in the coming months, nay years, but for the rest of this post I’ll be sharing with you the foods and history of the country’s capital city Port Louis.
A Food Tour of Port Louis
During my trip, I was invited to spend a Saturday morning enjoying an exploration of Port-Louis’ Street food with My Moris, and had the direct opportunity to learn a little more about the cuisine and rich history of the city away from the tourist spots around the coast. My two hosts Yianna and Ayesha, were a font of knowledge on the history of Mauritius, Port Louis and the food. I didn’t hesitate to ask a lot of questions, and they didn’t hesitate to answer.
Here’s my photo journey around the city.
In the old merchant area of Port Louis, where business is beginning to flounder today, old warehouse buildings dominate the architecture. This blue building caught my eye. Many of the buildings were made from volcanic rock so they are cold inside. Building them was a tremendous effort. Many are also made from wood in the French colonial style and look like they wouldn’t withstand a storm.
In the merchant quarter, store cupboard staples are still sold in bulk. Most ingredients such a spices, pulses and nuts are imported from India and Africa.
In the city there are lots of markets. The main food markets which attract lots of tourists, and then those more aimed at local trade. Recently a new market had been created to ease the congestion of stall holders spilling out over the main city streets, and avoid the stall holders undercutting prices of the adjacent shops.
In the newer market there are stalls a plenty selling fresh fruit and veg as well as household wares. I was invited to try some toasted peanuts, which are not naturally red, but dyed. They are cooked in sand, which stops them from burning, and then this is sieved off.
I could have spent hours watching this lady make rotis. There is such admirable skill in rolling and cooking these flatbreads from a tiny stall in the middle of a bustling market. A vegetable roti is typically filled with butter bean curry, a green sauce (greens are called bredes), and chilli if you dare. They cost around 15 rupee (30pence).
Chinese culture is an important part of Mauritian culture. In Port Louis a few streets are known as China town. We visited this make-shift restaurant in an alleyway and sampled the delicious dumplings. We also visited a Chinese bakery to try some cake. Most were made using rice, or beans of some description. I quite liked the sweet potato balls made with gelatinous rice flour, though the texture is undeniably odd. In Port Louis they are usually known by their Creole name – gateaux zinzli (sesame cake).
For our final taster we stopped at the Providence Hotel (not a hotel at all). Tea hotels are an old tradition and are generally where men gather to enjoy a cup of sweet milky tea (often made with milk powder not milk), which personally I found far too sweet to drink (my daily brew is usually plain black coffee). Deep fried aubergine slices or gateaux piment (chilli cakes) are popular snacks (gajacks) to have across Mauritius and are and served in white buttered rolls.
What an interesting way to spend 3 hours on a hot Saturday morning. I felt quite inspired my all I saw on my food tour of Port Louis, and feel my memories were all the richer for it. During the whole trip actually, it felt really apparent that so many tourists travel to Mauritius in search of the white sandy beaches, 5* internationally owned hotels (I wasn’t staying in one FYI!), luxury, and don’t necessarily stop to focus on all that the country has to offer. This was the exact reason My Moris was set up, and I would highly recommend this tour to any visitors (those in 5* luxury or otherwise!).
The tour I went on was called ‘My Moris – An exploration of Port-Louis’ street food’, and the tour costs 2400 rupees per person (approx £55). For more info check out My Moris,
But! my Mauritian adventure isn’t stopping here. I’ll be back next week with my own version of Gateaux Piment, a Mauritian inspired street food snack.
*Disclaimer: I was invited on the tour as a guest of My Moris, all opinions are my own.2