Mauritius is a true paradise for the palate and the senses, where the ethnic diversity of the local people is reflected in its cuisine.
The food served in most Mauritian homes is a melting pot of various cuisines. The different communities sample each others dishes and adapt them to fit their taste buds.
The Mauritian food represents the image of the Mauritian nation, an image of a multi cultural society of ethnical richness.
When referring to ethnic cuisine in Mauritius, you refer to Chinese, Indian and Muslim which are the biggest ethnic groups in Mauritius.
In this article I will cover the typical food and dishes of each ethnic group, also known as the staple food.
A staple food is a basic food that forms the basis of a traditional diet. The staple food is defined as the main food of the country. Staple foods vary from place to place, but are usually of vegetable origin, from cereals, pulses, corn, rice, millets and plants growing starchy roots.
Chinese food in Mauritius
Chinese food in Mauritius is characterized by the use of fresh meats and vegetables and sauces like soy sauce and oyster sauce.
Rice, wheat, sorghum, barley, millet, and sweet potatoes are Chinese Mauritian staple foods. Rice is the staple in almost all Chinese homes, but most eat no more than one meal of rice a day.
Pork Features prominently in Chinese cuisine is less used today due to health reasons. Much more acceptable meats today are the chicken and beef. Steak became a favorite for Chinese Mauritian and you can see many Chinese in Steak House restaurants. In addition to the meat, sea food has a big part in the local Chinese cooking.
Typical Mauritian Chinese Dishes includes:
- Bol devire or bol renversé - literally meaning "upside-down", is served just as its name implies. It is rice cooked with chicken, vegetables, dried mushrooms and served with in oyster sauce and a fried egg.
- Chow mein - is a generic Chinese term for a dish of stir-fried noodles, of which there are many varieties. Chow mein is made with either one of two different sorts of noodles: soft noodles, or thin crispy noodles. The noodles are hand made and cooked with chicken, beef, pork or seafood in soy sauce or sweet sauce.
- Dim sums - they come in small portions and may include meat, seafood, and vegetables, as well as desserts and fruit. Dim sums are usually served in a small steamer basket or on a small plate. For example, "saw mai", "niuk yan" (meat balls), "en pow niuk" (steamed fish fingers) and "teo kon" (bean-curd).
- Gateau arouille - (taro fritters) - grated yam (taro) mixed with sliced spring onions and ginger and coated with bread crumbs. The paste obtained is then fashioned into balls and deep fried until very crispy.
- Mooncakes - Chinese pastries traditionally eaten during the lunar worship and moon watching festival; moon cakes are regarded as an indispensable delicacy on this occasion. Mooncakes are offered between friends or on family gatherings while celebrating the festival, one of the three most important Chinese festivals. Typical mooncakes are round or rectangular pastries, measuring about 10 cm in diameter and 4-5 cm thick. A thick filling usually made from lotus seed paste is surrounded by a relatively thin (2-3 mm) crust and may contain yolks from salted duck eggs. Mooncakes are rich, heavy, and dense compared with most Western cakes and pastries. They are usually eaten in small wedges accompanied by Chinese tea.
Indian food in Mauritius
The typical Indian cuisine in Mauritius consists of rice, atta (whole wheat flour), and a variety of pulses, the most important of which are masoor (most often red lentil), chana (bengal gram), toor (pigeon pea or yellow gram), urad (black gram) and mung (green gram).
Other staples are rotti, farata, puri or chapati depended on the method of cooking. They are all made of wheat flour mixed with water to make dough. Oil or ghee may be added to the dough while kneading or in the rolling process, and then the dough is either toasted on a griddle or deep fried in oil.
Meats are usually cooked in curries, usually called masala, even though they are different from the Indian Massala. A fish masala, for example, tastes very different than the chicken masala because the spices are different.
Typical Indian Dishes includes:
- Achard is made of cabbage, carrots, beans, cauliflower, mustard seeds, mustard oil, garlic, turmeric, vinegar, chillies and onions. Crunchy and spicy, achard is best eaten with crusty bread.
- Curry is a generic description to describe a general variety of spiced dishes. Curry is a generic term, and although there is no one specific attribute that marks a dish as "curry", some distinctive spices used in many, though certainly not all, curry dishes including turmeric, cumin, coriander, fenugreek, and red pepper. It is usually understood to mean "gravy" or "sauce", rather than "spices". Goat meat, mutton and fish are typically used for curry dishes (religion forbids the consumption of beef and social customs have made pork also a taboo). The common ingredients of a curry are: curry powder, are onions, garlic, tomatoes and chillies. Cashew, potatoes, eggplants, ginger, almonds and okra are also commonly used.
- Madras curries tend to be very hot. Madras curry or Madras sauce is a fairly hot curry sauce, red in color and with heavy use of chilli powder. It originates in the south of India and gets its name from the city of Madras now more commonly known as Chennai. This curry can be vegetarian or made with meat.
Muslim food and Halal in Mauritius
The typical Mauritian food of the Muslim community is the same as the food eaten by Muslims worldwide and consists of: fava beans, wheat, rice, yogurt, dates, and chicken.
Muslims of course don't eat pork, but do eat beef (unlike Indians).
Typical Muslim Dishes includes:
- Briyani rice - this is one of the biggest contributions of Muslims to the Mauritian food scene. Biryani, biriani, or beriani is a set of rice-based foods made with spices (such as cloves, crushed cardamon pods, cinnamon stick, star anise, saffron powder and black peppercorns), rice (usually basmati) and meat, fish, eggs or vegetables. It is cooked in a steel pot called deg and is considered a full meal. The name is derived from the Persian word beryān, which means "fried" or "roasted".
- Gateaux Piments - sold everywhere in Mauritius, but especially popular with Muslims during the Ramadan (Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar), these chilli cakes are made from dall, green or red chillies, coriander leaves, spring onions, and cumin made into ball shapes and then deep fried.
- Gulab jamun - is a popular dessert made of dough consisting mainly of milk solids (often including double cream and flour) in sugar syrup flavored with cardamom seeds and rosewater or saffron.
- Hyderabadi haleem (Hyderabadi Halim) – is a popular dish made from pounded wheat and mutton (or beef) made into a thick paste usually made from lentils. It is the mainstay during the Holy month of Ramadan. It is a tradition to break the daily fast (roza) at Iftar with a plateful of haleem. Haleem is the traditional starter at Muslim weddings, celebrations and other special occasions.
- Kalia - is a kind of rice-less briyani, a stew of beef or mutton with potatoes and spices, such as cloves, turmeric, poppy seed, coriander, almonds, onion paste, ginger, saffron, chilli and bay leaves.
- Sutalfine – made from vermicelli (vermicelli is a type of pasta, round in section and somewhat thinner than spaghetti) which is twisted into a circular shape and cooked with butter, vegetable oil and sugar. Sutalfine is usually served after the dinner reception in Muslim weddings.
Halal (means lawful or legal in Arabic) - is an Arabic term designating any object or an action which is permissible to use or engage in, according to Islamic law. The Halal term is widely used to designate food seen as permitted according to Islamic law.
All foods are considered Halal apart from:
- Pork and its by-products
- Animals improperly slaughtered or dead before slaughtering
- Animals killed in the name of anyone other than the one all mighty god
- Alcohol and intoxicants
- Carnivorous animals, birds of prey and land animals without external ears
- Blood and blood by-products
- Foods containing ingredients such as gelatin, enzymes, emulsifiers
- Foods contaminated with any of the above products