Mauritius in 10 tastesPosted on: 13 March 2019 by Michael Edwards
The flavours of Mauritius tell the story of this Indian Ocean nation from colonial days through to independence. Michael Edwards tastes his way around the island.
Although Mauritius is over 6,000 miles from Britain, tea with milk is part of everyday life. From 1810 to 1968, Mauritius was part of the British Empire.
If the English had planted the tea bushes in Mauritius’ hills then the British colonial story story would have been complete. In fact, the French planted them when Mauritius belonged to them back in the 1700s.
But your tour bus to the tea plantation will drive on the left-hand side of road and English is the language of law, schools and parliament.
With 45% of Mauritius surface area still covered in sugar cane, rum is at the heart of this Paradise Island’s history. Pockets of the crop are so inaccessible that they are still harvested by hand with machetes.
Pick a distillery to first taste the white rum used in cocktails, then a golden rum and finally a rum flavoured with vanilla.
You’ll learn how the French brought slaves from Africa to labour in the fields. After the British abolished slavery in 1825 the plantations turned to indentured Indian labour.
“One Island, many peoples, all Mauritian” goes the slogan. It was sugar and rum which brought most of those people to Mauritius.
Millionaire Palm Hearts
It may be five years before a Millionaire Palm is harvested for its tender heart. Imagine a creamy cross between cucumber and artichoke: then you’ll beginning to get one of Mauritius little luxuries.
With perhaps just fifteen servings from a tree, Palm Heart Gratin Salad works out as rather an expensive starter.
Sooner or later you will take to the sea. Maybe taking a catamaran down the west coast seeking dolphin or occasionally humpback whale.
Within the gentle lapping waters of the lagoon fisherman’s pots snaffle lobster.
The crustaceans are a BBQ favourite when the catamarans moor up for lunch on one of the blissfully located offshore islets.
As a favourite destination for honeymoons, lobster is on the menu for many of the romantic dinners served on the beach too. The newly-weds framed in a heart of flowers.
Centuries ago, sailing ships often called into Mauritius, topping up on Grapefruit. The Vitamin C kept scurvy at bay as they voyaged across the Indian Ocean.
In fact, the French named one village, Pamplemousses, after the grapefruit. Today grapefruit trees are just one of the 800 species of trees on show at the 37 hectare SSR Botanical Gardens: the third largest in the world.
Not all of the French departed in 1810. Some remained. A few attempted to establish vineyards. But Mauritian summers are too humid for conventional grape-based wines.
Thinking-out-of-the-box, Alexandre Oxenham is making great progress with Lychee wine. Call into his Takamata winery to try a dry, sweet and rose wine.
As 52% of the population are beef-avoiding Hindus there’s a general preference for chicken, fish or lamb curry.
It is also the reason why chicken-loving KFCs outnumber beef-burger based Macdonalds on the island.
Kot Nou Restaurant, at Anse la Raie, offers a Mauritian cookery course. Cooks learn that even the Fish Vindaloo they create is relatively mild.
Neighbouring Madagascar, over 600 miles away, has gained a reputation as the world’s leading supplier of vanilla. It is grown successfully on Mauritius too. Bargain-priced vanilla pods and vanilla paste are favourite gifts.
Vanilla flavours rum and cocktails. It provides the sauce for another legacy of the British Empire too: bread and butter pudding.
Head for the market in the island’s crowded capital of Port Lewis for the best value nutmeg and cloves.
As both require careful picking, harvesting is a job reserved for women’s nimble fingers. Cloves need particularly delicate care as they are picked as flowers and then sun-dried to create the familiar spice.
Humans are not the only fans of bananas. Macaw monkeys gather at the viewing point over the remains of Mauritius’ ancient forest of valuable hardwood trees. After the felling of Mahogany, Rosewood and Teak trees for furniture back in the 17th Century, just 1.3% of those original forests remain.
The monkeys, at Black River Gorge, wait for bananas giving tourists the chance to take their photos.
Bananas, doused in rum, and then flambéd, provide a signature dessert of pure theatre for many Mauritian restaurants.
Attitude https://hotels-attitude.com/en/home/ provide a range of hotels on the island.
Air Mauritius, British Airways and Tui direct flights from London to Mauritius.
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