There is something familiar and yet exotic about the flavours in Mauritius and I am not just talking about the sights and sounds. The island country is a mixed pot of influences – from Indian to Chinese, Continental to Creole and the culinary traditions mirror these multi-ethnic communities who have made Mauritius their home. The Mauritius Indian cuisine is unique in its taste and has its own recipes. If you are a vegetarian like me and you are looking for Mauritius vegetarian food, you will realize that while the cuisine seems very Indian it is distinctly different. This is where falooda becomes alouda, paratha becomes farata and aachar becomes achard. From street food to fine dining, every dish has a backstory to it that goes back to the era of immigrants and indented labourers, who had come here from India many years ago. If you are looking for some Indian-inspired dishes and snacks and wondering what to eat in Mauritius, then here are some dishes that you must try in the island country.
Dholl Puri is synonymous with Mauritius when it comes to street food and is often heralded as the “national dish of Mauritius” even if it’s a bit of an exaggeration. It is not a deep-fried puri for starters. Made with maida, the traditional Mauritius Dholl Puri is like a stuffed wrap or a paratha, cooked on a girdle and stuffed with crumbled lentils like channa dal and fillings like onions and chillies and accompanied with curries and pickles, all having a unique Mauritian flavour. While you can find it in almost all hotels, the best place to savour it are in the stalls around the Apravasi Ghat where the indented labourers from India landed at this depot centuries ago. This is also where the story of the lentil stuffed dish begins.
The wives of the indented labourers who worked in the sugar plantations had to deal with resource crunches as they were given fixed rations. Water was precious, wheat was unavailable. So the wives boiled the water to cook the dal and then used the same water to knead the dough as well which was made from maida or refined flour. The dal blended with the dough inadvertently and the flatbread became a staple diet of the labourers.
There are many improvisations and accompaniments to the simple dish and it is one of the best dishes if you are looking for Mauritius vegetarian food. Served with butter bean curry y, it is seasoned with spices and herbs like cumin, chilly, turmeric and coriander and served with pickled vegetables or achard as its called, and rougalle, a tomato based curry. It tops the menu list when you are looking to try a historic dish of Mauritius Indian cuisine.
2. Farata and Roti Chaud with curries, chutney and dal
The breads in Mauritius are called Roti Chaud or Farathas which are local versions of the Indian rotis and parathas. The flatbreads are also popular street food and are served with a variety of curries and chutneys. The curries include a mix of vegetarian curries like broad bean, pumpkin , chayote or chouchou and even banana and jackfruit which are ideal dishes for Mauritius vegetarian food.
The rougalle is a Creole dish which is a tomato and onion-based gravy that forms the base for other chicken and seafood curries and includes minced meat as well. Chutneys and dals are also served with the breads with a typical Mauritian flavour.
The Sept Caris or Seven Curries is actually an inspiration from the Tamil cuisine as most of the indented labourers came from Tamil Nadu and have settled there. The curries, which are usually vegetarian are a part of the thali served along with rice on plantain leaves and are prepared for weddings, festivals and occasions. They include curries made with a combination of vegetables and fruits like brinjal or eggplant, potatoes, beans, pumpkin, coyote, jackfruit, bananas and mango. The brinjal curry is more like a Mauritian version of sambar and it is called Dal Brinzel. Pomme De Terre Masala’ and Haricot Masala refer to curries made with potato and beans. In Mauritius, chayote or squash is also used along with pumpkins for curries. If you are wondering what to eat in Mauritius as a vegetarian, then look for these dishes served in any restaurant.
4. Gâteaux piments
It literally translates to chilli cakes but these fritters made with yellow split peas (channa dal) and chillies and deep fried are one of the common snacks served in Mauritius that has drawn their inspiration from the pakodas and medu vadas. The lentils have been soaked overnight and ground and blended with onions and chillies and spices. These ubiquitous dishes are part of the menu when you are looking for Mauritius Indian cuisine.
These fried balls of lentils and chillies are sometimes stuffed with even potatoes and onions as well remind you of falafels and are served with cassava chips or manioc goujons and spicy chilly sauce. Another snack is the version of bread pakora called Du Pain Frire or friend bread which is crunchy and has fillings of tomatoes, onions, chilli and coriander. The local crispy samosas or samoussas or gajaks are both vegetarian with potatoes or filled with fish and meat as well. All of them are inspired by Mauritius Indian food.
5. Gateau de Patates
“Cakes” have a different flavour here. The Gateau de patates are sweet potato cakes which are stuffed with sugar, coconut and cardamom and are one of the most delicious snacks served here. There are different versions like gateau aubergine which is with eggplant as well.Served with casava chips, these batter fried cakes are served during tea usually. There are also coconut cakes called Poutou which are steamed.
All these spicy snacks are then drowned with a large glass of Alouda or falooda. Pink or green in colour, the drink blends condensed milk with agar agar, which is derived from seaweeds and is used as a thickener along with vanilla essence and topped with almonds and basil seeds. Alouda is served with a scoop of ice cream, Creamy and delicious, this is a must-try in Mauritius.
What are the other dishes besides Mauritius Indian food that you have tried and would recommend? Have you savoured Mauritius vegetarian food besides the famous Mauritius Dholl Puri ? Please share your recommendations on what to eat in Mauritius.
You can read more about how the Mauritius Indian cuisine is one of the many reasons to visit Mauritius as recommended by food blogger, Nandita Iyer on her blog Saffron Trail