Mauritian cuisine is very similar across the island – a rich and delicious mix of Indian spices and fresh local ingredients prepared with strong influences from Chinese, French and African cuisine. The food of Rodrigues is quite different – less spicy but with more fresh fruit and beans as ingredients.
Mauritius has a terrific range of eating options, and advance reservations are rarely necessary.
- Restaurants From simple roadside restaurants and fishermen's shacks to midrange excellence.
- Tables d'hôtes Atmospheric family-run kitchens, usually with set menus and traditional dishes.
- Hotels Top-end hotels usually have multiple restaurants, with a main buffet-style dining area as well as à la carte options.
- Cafes & Patisseries An increasing part of the culinary scene, with lighter meals, coffee and pastries on offer.
Habits & Customs
Eating habits vary across ethnic groups. Some groups eat with their fingers, others don't eat meat on Fridays and some abstain from eating pork – it's hard to generalise across the community.
Other than in hotels and chambres d'hôtes, where buffets are the norm, breakfasts are normally very quick and informal. Lunch is also a fairly casual affair, though at the weekend it tends to be more formal, with family and friends gathering to share the pleasures of the table. In restaurants special menus are offered for weekend lunches. Before dinner, which is a very formal occasion, gajacks (predinner snacks) and an apéro (aperitif) or a ti punch (small punch) is commonly served; during the meal, wine or beer is usually available.
As eating and drinking are important social activities, behaviour at the table should be respectful. Locals can be strict about table manners, and it's considered rude to pick at your food or mix it together. You are also expected to be reasonably well dressed. Unless you are in a beach environment, wearing beachwear or other skimpy clothing won't be well received – casual but neat clothing is the norm. Some upmarket hotels require neat dress for guests – for men that usually includes trousers or long pants, and perhaps even a collared shirt. When invited to dine with locals, bring a small gift (maybe some flowers or a bottle of wine).
If you're attending a traditional Indian or Chinese meal, or a dinner associated with a religious celebration, follow what the locals do. Generally your hosts will make you feel comfortable, but if you are unsure, ask about the serving customs and the order of dishes. Definitely attend an Indian or a Chinese wedding if you get the opportunity – these celebrations are true culinary feasts.
Places to enjoy eats on the run are in plentiful supply in Mauritius. Street vendors are at every bus station and town square, and takeaway shops can be found in numerous shopping centres and markets; both offer inexpensive local treats, including Indian, French and Chinese delicacies. Almost all restaurants, except the most upmarket, will do takeaway.
In Mauritius roadside stalls serving dinner dishes such as biryani, Indian rotis and faratas (unleavened flaky flour pancakes) are popular. Street eats cost around Rs 5 to Rs 10 for snacks such as rotis, dhal puris (lentil pancakes) and boulettes (tiny steamed Chinese dumplings) served at markets, along public beaches and in the capital.
The atmospheric markets are worth visiting for the popular gâteaux piments (chilli cakes), which are cooked on the spot. You should also try the delicious dhal puris, rotis, samosas and bhajas (fried balls of besan dough with herbs or onion).
Indian and Chinese restaurants offer quick and inexpensive meals and snacks. Remember to buy some Indian savouries such as caca pigeon (an Indian nibble) or the famous Chinese char siu (barbecued pork).
Staples & Specialties
Rice and noodles are two of the staples of everyday life, though to a great extent what people eat depends on their ethnic background. A Sino-Mauritian may well start the day with tea and noodles, a Franco-Mauritian with a café au lait and croissant, and an Indo-Mauritian with a chapatti. Come lunchtime, however, nearly everyone enjoys a hot meal, whether it be a spicy seafood carri (curry) or mines (noodles), and a cooling beer. Dinner is the main meal of the day and is usually eaten en famille (with family).
While meat is widely eaten, especially in Chinese and French cuisine (venison and wild boar are mainstays around Mahébourg, and the distinctive Creole sausages are ever-popular), the mainstays of Mauritian cuisine (regardless of culture) are fish and seafood. Marlin, often smoked, is a big favourite, as are mussels, prawns, lobster and calamari. Octopus (ourite) is a special highlight and appears in all manner of guises – salads, cooked in saffron, or in a curry (sometimes with green papaya). The fish of the day is nearly always a good order.
When it comes to street food, boulettes (tiny steamed Chinese dumplings) are fantastic, and there's always dhal puri.
Mauritius has many candidates for the title of the country's national dish, but few have the mass appeal of dhal puri (also spelled dholl puri). Inspired by the Indian bread known as paratha, its divergence from the mother country came about because not all of the ingredients were available here. The Mauritian version, using a thin flat bread known as farata, can be rolled around whatever you like, but the staple version is filled with ground yellow split peas and prepared with curries, rougaille (tomato-based stew or hotpot) and pickles or chutney. The best ones are crowned with chillies. You'll find them everywhere along the streets wherever Mauritians live and work, though less so in tourist areas.
Vegetarians & Vegans
Vegetarians will fare well in Mauritius, though they may be disappointed by the lack of variety. Indian restaurants tend to offer the best choice, but often this is limited to a variation on the theme of carri de légumes (vegetable curry). Chinese restaurants are also good for vegetarians, while Creole and French places are much more limiting. That said, almost everywhere has a vegetable curry on the menu. Pescatarians will be spoilt for choice, as almost every eatery in the country offers fresh seafood and freshly caught fish cooked to perfection.
Vegans will find things harder, but not unassailably so – most resorts will be able to offer vegan options with notice, and Indian restaurants will again offer the most choice.
Where to Eat
There tends to be quite a bit of segregation between 'tourist' restaurants and 'local' ones, particularly around bigger resort areas. In places such as Port Louis and the Central Highlands this is a lot less pronounced, and most places have a mixed clientele.
Nearly all restaurants have menus in English, or at least staff who speak English, so communication difficulties are rare.
Most restaurants have several cuisines served up cheek by jowl, though they're nearly always separated from each other on the menu. While in better restaurants this will mean each cuisine is prepared by a different expert chef, on the whole most chefs are decent at cooking one cuisine but prepare the remaining dishes with something approaching indifference. The rule is a fairly obvious one – don't go to a Chinese restaurant for a good curry.
The best places to eat throughout the country tend to be tables d'hôtes (privately hosted meals); these are often given by people who run guesthouses as well, but they're just as often offered alone. Offering a unique insight into local life, you'll usually dine with the host couple and often their children, plus any other travellers who've arranged to come by (or people staying in the guesthouse), and you'll enjoy traditional dishes spread over a number of courses. It's nearly always necessary to book a table d'hôte, preferably a day in advance, though it's always worth asking – bigger operations will sometimes be able to accommodate last-minute additions, but smaller places may not even open without a reservation.
It's the Creole element that shines through most strongly at the tables d'hôtes. If you don't eat at a table d'hôte at least once in Mauritius, you've missed an essential part of its gastronomic culture.