For a tiny island of only 1 million people, Mauritius has an incredibly rich and diverse food culture, infused with influences from its mélange of inhabitants (Creole, French, Chinese and Indian people). The island is also blessed with fertile soil, so the local produce is incredible – from super-sized vegetables to sweet fruits.
Street food is fantastic in Mauritius – you can get everything from fresh coconut water, chopped fruit covered in chilli and sugar, hot curries topped with chilli and pickles wrapped in buttery breads, and Chinese fried noodles. Mauritius also has fabulous restaurants – from local eateries with authentic food to gourmet places that serve Mauritian fusion food.
Don’t stay in your resort when you visit Mauritius – get out and explore the island and its amazing food.
Here’s my pick of the top 25 things to eat and drink in Mauritius – and the best places to find/eat/drink them.
You’ll find stalls on the street selling dholl puris all over Mauritius, but the very best place to get them is Dewa in Rose-Hill (easily found – once you arrive in Rose-Hill, just ask anyone and they’ll know where it is). Dholl puris are thought to be derived from Indian flatbread, paratha. Indian immigrants to Mauritius couldn’t get the ingredients to make the bread on the island, and their substitute, a fried thin bread stuffed with ground yellow split peas, and served in a pair with bean curry, atchar and chutney.
For a dholl puri recipe and video on how to make it, click here.
Mauritian pineapples are sweeter and more delicious than South African ones. They’re best eaten on the beach in your swimming costume, with your hair still damp from your last swim in the warm Indian Ocean. There are pineapple sellers who cruise the beaches, ready to cut pineapples into easy-to-hold (and eat) treats.
With a strong Indian influence in its food, how can Mauritius not have great curry? However it’s not the curry you may be used to from Durban or India. Mauritian curry has quite a different flavour, although the base is similar – there’s garlic, onion, fresh curry leaves and turmeric. There isn’t one type of curry in Mauritius – you get everything from tomato-based Creole curries (typically not that spicy – chilli is served on the side) to Indian ones. Mauritian curries are served with rice or bread (faratha – see number 16), lentils and delicious accompaniments – various chutneys and achard (vegetable pickles made with mustard) as well as the ubiquitous mazavaroo (see number 7).
While octopus curry wasn’t my favourite (I found the octopus a bit chewy for my liking), it’s a popular Mauritian dish and one you should try. The best place to get octopus curry, according to locals, is Chez Rosy near Gris Gris beach, on the southern coast of Mauritius.
Bois Cheri tea estate, in the south of the island, grows black tea, which they then mix with Ceylon tea imported from Sri Lanka, and vanilla flavouring imported from South Africa (of all places), to produce a delicious black vanilla tea. You’ll find it all over the island (and on Air Mauritius) but the best place to drink it is at the Bois Cheri cafe after a tour of the tea factory and a tea tasting. The cafe has incredible views – over the tea plantation fields, fringed with palm trees, and the southern coastline. Complement your cuppa with a tasty tea-infused treat such as tea sorbet, or papaya panacotta with tea jelly. Stock up on Bois Cheri tea from the shop to take home.
Anyway you want it: baked, grilled, fried, sauteed. Mauritius has incredible seafood – from local fish capitaine to calamari and lobsters. Mauritian cuisine pretty much revolves around seafood – whether it’s curries, stews, Chinese dishes or Indian, it’s seafood-heavy. Mauritius = pescatarian heaven.
Seriously. For hundreds of year, sugar was Mauritius’ currency. The island’s economy has diversified now, but sugar is still a main export, as the vast fields of sugar cane covering the island will attest to. Mauritius produces some of the world’s best sugar, which you may not realise as you tuck into your fifth treacly caramelised pineapple dessert. I mean, it just tastes like sugar, right? Wrong. The best way to try out Mauritius’ delicious sugars is at L’Aventure du Sucre, a fascinating sugar museum that offers a sugar tasting of around nine different types of sugars.
L’Aventure du Sucre
Find it off the highway near Pamplemousses towards the north (there’ll be a sign on your right hand side)
Mauritians eat chilli with everything. EVERYTHING. This includes fruit (think unripe mango with chilli in a bag) and baguettes as well as your regular curries and fish dishes. There’s a dish of chopped chilli or chilli paste (called mazavaroo) with pretty much every meal. As a chilli-lover I was a big hit with locals, who watched me eat bowls of noodles smothered in chilli paste without flinching or breaking into a sweat. ‘The Europeans never eat chilli like this!’ they exclaimed. At last, an eating talent! Pick up a bottle of mazavaroo as a fiery souvenir in one of the many markets on the island, or make your own at home with this easy recipe.
Gajak are Mauritian snacks, generally of the deep fried variety. You’ll find them being sold from glass boxes on the back of motorbikes and food stalls near markets, beaches and on the side of the road. Try samoosas, gateau aubergine (eggplant fritters), manioc goujons (cassava chips) and gateau patat (potato fritters). All this deep fried goodness works well paired with number thirteen.
Thanks to its Chinese population, Mauritius has delicious Cantonese food. I had the best dim sum this side of Hong Kong at First Restaurant in Port Louis. Here you’ll find typical Cantonese dim sum with Mauritian touches, such as shrimp and taro dumplings.
Mauritians have made their own dim sum, called boulet – these are dumplings made from fish, prawns, or chou chou (a pear-shaped vegetable). Boulet are steamed and then eaten in a fish broth with lots of chilli (see number 5). Find boulet at streetside stalls.
Corner of Royal and Corderie Streets, Port Louis
This Mauritian dish is supposedly adapted from the Indian vindaloo, although there’s debate about this. It’s cooked with mustard, garlic, ginger, turmeric, onion and usually fish, although it can be made with vegetables instead. It’s served with rice, lentils, pickles and chutneys. Oh, and it’s delicious.
Similar to the Cape Malay drink falooda, which you find in Cape Town’s Bo-Kaap, alouda is a pink sweet milky beverage with tapioca balls, flavoured with a syrup (I like vanilla the best). According to locals, the best place to find alouda is in the Port Louis food market, which is exactly where I headed to get my fix of this milkshake-like drink which is particularly refreshing after a humid morning in the bustling market.
Sweet-toothed visitors to Mauritius should try mithai – Indian sweets. Intensely sugary and buttery, they need to be eaten in moderation (unless you are keen to buy an entirely new wardrobe when you get back home). The best place to find them is at the Bombay Sweets Mart in Port Louis (where the helpful shop assistants will let you taste several of their 30 different types of mithai to see which ones you like best).
Bombay Sweets Mart
Don’t leave Mauritius without drinking from a coconut. It may sound tropical-island-cheesy (and it probably is) but it’s also so tasty and not something you find at home much. And coconut water is deliciously refreshing. Like the pineapples, the best place to find coconuts is on the beach – buy one from a beach vendor, sip it dry and get a photo of yourself (nothing says ‘I’m on holiday on a tropical island’ like drinking a coconut on the beach) before taking it back to the vendor to cut up so you can eat the flesh.
Another popular street food dish is mine frites (fried noodles). This is a simple, yet tasty, dish of soy-sauce-fried noodles topped with spring onions and chilli (see number five). As it’s a Chinese-influenced dish, the best place to eat mine frites is, unsurprisingly in Chinatown, at a street stall. After eating your noodles with copious amounts of chilli (the Mauritian way – when in Rome, right?) cool yourself down with a bowl of herbal black jelly (la mousse noir) – the stall should sell that too. It sounds weird, it looks weird, but it tastes good. It has a subtle flavour, a hint of sweetness and a lot of cooling down power.
Mauritius’ local beer, Phoenix, is an award-winning, crisp, refreshing lager that goes well with pretty much anything you’ll eat on the island, and is great by itself, drunk at sunset on the beach.
This is similar to Indian paratha – a flat bread eaten with curry. It’s buttery, doughy and delicious. Find them being sold at street stalls or in many Mauritian and Indian restaurants.
These sweet potato cakes are a tasty Mauritian teatime treat. Sweet potato dough encases a filling of coconut, cardamom and sugar which is then deep fried.
There’s rum and then there’s rum. While Mauritian rum isn’t up to the standard of Reunion island or the Caribbean, it is pretty good, especially at one of the three distilleries on the island the produce agricole rum (that’s rum made the proper way, from sugar cane juice instead of molasses). St Aubin and Chateau Labourdonnais produce great rums (do a rum tasting at each spot and try them out yourself) but Rhumerie de Chamarel in Chamarel, in the south west, makes award-winning double-distilled rum that’s been aged in oak. It’s a cut above the others.
All three distilleries produce rum arrange, infused rum with various flavours, such as vanilla, coffee, kumquat, spices and citrus fruit. These rums are sweetened with sugar so are a bit more palatable if you’re not a huge rum person.
Rhumerie de Chamarel
Which brings us to number 19. Short for ‘petit rum punch’, this is drunk all over the island, with different ingredients added in to a base of rum and sugar syrup. My favourite is ti rum punch Graham, made with fresh lime juice. You can buy ready-made ti rum punch (perfect for taking home and drinking at sunset while you wish you were back in Mauritius) from Rhumerie de Chamarel.
The cheap vanilla that’s sold to tourists in Mauritius’ markets and souvenir shops is not actually Mauritian – it’s poor quality vanilla from Madagascar. The only place where you can buy Mauritian-grown vanilla is at St Aubin, a restored colonial mansion that has a small vanilla plantation and rhumerie (their coffee rum is delicious, by the way). Visit the deliciously-fragranced Vanilla House and learn how vanilla is grown, take a look at the vanilla plants (did you know they are orchids?) in the garden, and then feast on chicken cooked in vanilla and vanilla creme brulee in the restaurant, on the veranda of the gorgeous old sugar plantation mansion.
Chateau Labourdonnais, in Mapou (near the Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens), grows rare Tahitian vanilla, which is only found there and in, unsurprisingly, Tahiti. The creme brulee cooked with this vanilla from in the restaurant (La Table du Chateau) in the chateau’s gardens (which serves fantastic gourmet Mauritian cuisine) is the best I’ve ever had.
Of all the different types of chutneys in Mauritius (and there seem to be hundreds, several of which accompany every curry meal), coconut chutney was my absolute favourite. It’s zingy, fresh-tasting and flavoured with that quintessential island ingredient – coconut. It’s a cooling chutney that complements spicy mazavaroo-laced curry.
Also known as ‘Millionaire’s Salad’, this is a Mauritian delicacy but I’m not sure why. Palm trees grow for about seven years and then are cut down to extract the ‘heart’ – an arm-sized inner tube of the tree, which feeds around three people as a starter. This is then sliced finely and eaten raw in a salad with smoked marlin and other goodies, or cooked in a sauce. It tastes of nothing to me and I feel bad for the palm tree (I guess that makes me a tree hugger). It’s worth a try though – just offset your salad by planting a palm tree in your garden when you’re home.
These delicious cookies (Mauritians call them cakes: tomayto, tomahto) are made from grated coconut and sugar. I had particularly tasty ones at a table d’hote (family-hosted restaurant) – Escale Creole in Moka, near Port Louis.
Rougaille is a popular Creole dish – a kind of tomato stew – made with meat or fish, tomatoes, garlic, onion, and thyme.
Last, but not least is roti chaud (hot roti). This is a roti (a flat Indian bread) served with various curries, chutneys and pickles, usually from the back of a motorbike or a street food stall.
Thanks to Mauritian tweeters and commenters who brought to my attention the fact that I left out a favourite Mauritian dish: briyani (or briani). Similar to Indian briyani, it’s a rice dish made with beef, chicken, fish, mutton or vegetables (as well as yoghurt, saffron and spicies) that originates from Muslim Mauritians.
And, what not to eat and drink in Mauritius
Shark fin soup (for obvious reasons).
Locally grown Chamarel coffee (it tastes pretty horrible) – stick to imports instead.
Read my feature on Mauritius with photos from Russell Smith in the February 2013 issue of Getaway Magazine.
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