With a fishing ground as rich as the Indian Ocean, it’s no wonder that Mauritius is known for its seafood. It features heavily on menus across the island, found in anything from hot Creole rougaille and traditional Chinese dim sum, to French-inspired dishes and Indian curries. Exotic catches such as parrot fish, marlin, octopus and sacre chien are the norm here, so this is the chance to try them all.
If you’re feeling adventurous, try your hand at catching your own dinner with a bamboo rod – most resorts offer fishing trips, some even in glass bottom boats. Patience is the key, so don’t be disheartened if the plump prawns used as bait look more appetising than the dregs you find on your hook. If all else fails head to a beachside restaurant for a barefoot dining experience overlooking the ocean. Dining on lobster is far more glamorous than catching it, anyway.
Palm trees are the ultimate representation of tropical island life, but you may not expect to be served them on a plate come dinner time. Palm hearts – the cylindrical core of certain species of palm trunks – are not only edible, but rather delicious. The global palm heart industry has a controversial history of deforestation and overexploitation, but these issues are now being counteracted in Mauritius with sustainable farming efforts, which allow the trees to live on. This crunchy, refreshing vegetable is considered a delicacy, and goes particularly well with a smoked marlin salad.
Although Mauritius has diversified its exports in recent decades, sugar cane remains a vital means of trade; therefore it’s no surprise that rum is the tipple of choice across the island. Visitors to the Rhumerie de Chamarel in the southwest can take a guided tour of the distillery, and learn about the rum-making process from plantation to bottle. Mauritian rum is beguilingly smooth and sweet, so it may be best to settle any designated driver situations before the samples are handed out.
No matter where you stay in Mauritius, chances are you’ll come across rhum arrangé – rum flavoured with local fruits and spices. On the island's south, Shanti Maurice resort’s newly opened Rum Shed serves the island’s largest collection of rums: over 180 types from around the world. If you care to try and make your own, Veranda Resorts in the north of the island offers lessons as part of its cultural programme.
There are two things you’re guaranteed to see when travelling around Mauritius: stray dogs and street food stalls. While the dogs are best avoided (no matter how cute!), the opposite is true of the cheap, spicy roadside offerings that are available at every turn.
Dhal puri and roti chaud
Infinitely popular, and justifiably so, dhal puri is a blend of seasoned split peas, pickled vegetables and bean curry wrapped in a warm, thin flat bread that shouldn’t cost more than 5 rupees. Similarly, roti chaud comprises an Indian flatbread, with curry sauce and optional meat or fish fillings. Vendors will ask if you would like your meal with a kick of chilli (avec piment) or without (sans piment). Remember that in this country they take spice seriously; those of easily flustered taste buds should proceed with caution.
Amongst the tempting golden brown assortment of taro root fritters, aubergine pakoras and crunchy samosas, there is an even more moreish deep fried treat: gateaux piments. Literally translated as ‘chilli cakes’, these spicy deep fried balls of lentil and chilli, sometimes served with a chilli sauce, can be bought individually or – preferably – clustered in paper bags for the ultimate on-the-go snack. Embrace the grease – you’re on holiday, after all.
Coconut and pineapple
Coconut and pineapple are quintessential Mauritian flavours and staple thirst-quenchers found in various forms; parched flâneurs can purchase both fruits fresh from beachside stalls or enjoy them in their blissful marriage: the piña colada. If you’re feeling naughty, flambéd pineapple with coconut ice cream is a boozy, decadent dessert using top quality Mauritian brown sugar.
Vanilla is prevalent in Mauritian cuisine and can be found in anything from classic crème brûlées to aromatic curries and even skewered whole through steak. Bois Chéri vanilla tea is famous island-wide; see it being made and savour a refreshing cup at the Bois Chéri tea plantation in the south. Be aware that much of the vanilla on sale in Mauritian markets is from neighbouring Madagascar – for authentic Mauritian vanilla products visit the Saint Aubin plantation.
Emma Sparks is Lonely Planet’s Social Media Coordinator in London. She tweets @Emma_Sparks and blogs at Sparky Sees the World. Emma travelled to Mauritius with support from Veranda Resorts (veranda-resorts.com) and White Sand Tours (whitesandtours.com). When Lonely Planet contributors receive assistance from travel providers such as tourist boards, airlines, and so on to conduct first-hand research, we retain our editorial independence at all times, and never accept anything in return for positive coverage.