I’ve just returned from one of my best travel assignments for Getaway Magazine so far: a week-long trip to Mauritius with photographer Russell Smith. Our mission: to discover the best food on the island, from roadside snacks to gourmet dishes in top restaurants.
In a week, we drove around the entire island (getting lost once for about 10 minutes), and explored a Mauritius that many tourists don’t ever see from the confines of their resorts.
We found the best dhal puris (rotis filled with dal and pickles) on the island (at Dewa in Rose-Hill), ate Creole feasts of curry, stews and chutneys, discovered delicious peanut rougaille in a 150-yr old colonial mansion, chowed gateau piments (chilli cakes) on the beach in Grand Baie, ate octopus curry (chewy) in a tiny restaurant booming Rihanna in Trou d’eau douce, found the best dim sum this side of Hong Kong at First Restaurant in Port Louis, cooled down with alouda and tamarind juice in the Port Louis market, ate fried noodles with extra chilli in Chinatown (followed by refreshing, but weird-looking black herbal jelly), ate our first palm hearts in the famous ‘Millionaire’s Salad’, drank the best vanilla tea in the world at Bois Cheri (and maybe the worst coffee), and learned to eat chilli (piment) with everything, as the Mauritians do.
We nearly got blown off a cliff overlooking a beach called ‘Black Magic’ in an anti-cyclone, ate the best crème brulee ever (made with the world’s rarest vanilla) and the most vanilla-ish vanilla ice cream (not made with rare vanilla), discovered that Mauritius’ big tourist attraction (7 coloured earths) is a glorified sandpit, learned a hundred facts about sugar and that a sugar tasting gives you a glucose high, ate Mauritian pizza (farata topped with local greens and served with atchar) and Mauritian tapas (deep-fried cassava chips), explored 150-year-old mansions trying to imagine the lives of French plantation owners on the once disease-ridden island, sipped from coconuts on the beach as the sun set over the Indian Ocean, found Mauritius’ cemetery with a view, smelled spice trees and saw a rare blooming talipot palm (they only bloom every 30 years) in Pamplemousses’ amazing botanical gardens, ate fried tiny shrimp and chickpeas with chilli and tomatoes in the bustling Sunday Flacq market, did three rum tastings and realised that I still don’t really like rum (even if it is award-winning, aged in French oak for three years and flavoured with lemongrass, star anise, vanilla and kumquat), sauna-ed with naked German honeymooners (in a very small sauna), learned how to make Creole prawn curry, farata and deep-fried sweet potato cakes stuffed with coconut and cardamom, and found that coconut jam and a freshly-baked buttery croissant make the best breakfast ever.
Mauritius completely exceeded my expectations. I expected it to be overly-touristy and smothered in tanning Europeans. I didn’t expect a fascinating, diverse food culture, amazingly warm and welcoming people, a huge array of foodie attractions and unspoiled and untouristy beaches and landscapes. If you think Mauritius is full of resorts with nothing to do other than lie on the beach, think again (and then book your flight).
Look out for our story in the February 2012 issue of Getaway.