Writing: Tanya El Kashef
Travel Experience and Photographs: Sherif Tamim
Located in the Indian Ocean, a couple of a thousand kilometers off the continent of Africa, the picturesque island of Mauritius has over time become home to a multitude of ethnicities, religions and cultures; the coalescence of which has resulted in a cuisine that is wholesomely exotic and endlessly exciting.
To give a brief outline of the nation’s history: prior to its independence in 1968, the Dutch, the French and the British each colonized Mauritius, leaving behind their distinct imprint on the local palate; while the rising numbers of workers from India, former slaves and Chinese migrants during the 19th century furthered the gastronomical influences that remain to this day.
Visiting the southwestern part of the island, a big lagoon separates this area from the open water and a fresh-water river – along with a waterfall – is also located nearby.
With idyllic blue skies and white sandy beaches, Mauritius thrives on tourism and agriculture, as well as importing and exporting produce; the most important of which is exporting sugar cane. The general atmosphere of the island is a peaceful, merry one and the days are filled with eating, drinking and playing music – it seemed as though every local played in a band.
If the cuisine were to be described on a poster, it may go something like: Tropical and Sea Ingredients from Africa, Marinated in Asian and Indian Spices, Served with a French Attitude! Sounds interesting, yes?
And it is. Being an island in one of the richest parts of the Indian Ocean, seafood is a staple item in their cuisine and local dishes offer an eclectic mélange of ingredients, such as the Mahi-mahi fish tartar, with papaya and a touch of curry.
Restaurants are designed as open spaces and kept simple, and they are most often found directly on the beach. There one can find an assortment of supremely fresh seafood served consistently throughout the day as ‘catch of the hour’. Known for their fresh produce, including coconuts, papaya and heart of palms, an extensive food market can be found in the city of Flacq. Stalls of food are laid out beneath a bamboo canopy, exhibiting rows and rows of brightly colored fruit and vegetables, as well as more staple items like eggs and bread.
The Four Seasons Resort – Anahita
Contacted by the Four Seasons to do some dining and lifestyle photography, the resort aims to bring the experience of all Mauritian cultures and cuisines under one roof and without needing to visit the whole of the island; the juxtaposition of luxury and street food was invariably an interesting one. Weekly kiosks are set up on the beach and serve all sorts of dishes that rein from everywhere on the island; stations include stir-fry, curry, fresh salads, fresh coconut juice and cocktails and lots and lots of the freshest seafood.
An in-house farm provides all of the resort’s herbs, vegetables and fruit, rendering every meal as remarkable no matter its simplicity. A stand out dish was the poached eggs with asparagus for breakfast, which were delicately accompanied by Marlin fish – a fish not commonly found in restaurants. Beyond the delectable breakfast items and an Italian restaurant that served one of the best seafood pastas we’ve tried to date, the resort also hosts rum and wine tasting events, as well as offers cooking classes to guests.
An Invitation to Mauritius
The ultimate purpose of the trip was to meet Chef Thierry Papillier and photograph some of his dishes before he left for a new position at the Four Seasons Casablanca. As a result, for about a week our taste buds were treated to a number of impeccably prepared dishes, with each seafood dish outshining the next with its vivacity of flavors and colors.
Taking some time away from the Four Seasons to introduce us to local treasures, Chef Papillier organized a boat trip to an island where lunch was served on a table and chairs intelligently placed inside the water. The meal consisted of expertly grilled meats that included beef, pork, fish and chicken; and for dessert, grilled fruit with brown sugar and rum.
Overlapping with the new executive chef at the Four Seasons Resort Anahita – coveted Michelin star holder, past George V executive chef and Gourmand Award winner – Chef Nicolas Vienne, we were lucky to also capture a few of his creations as well, before heading back home.
The experience of Mauritian cuisine pleases the eye as much as the palate and dishes composed of luscious, vibrant ingredients often end up looking like edible art. Matched with the joyous nature of the locals and the sublime scenery, our trip to Mauritius is not one that will soon be forgotten.