A Vegetarian in Paradise: Mauritius & Rodrigues.
If there was ever a vegetarian’s version of paradise, Mauritius and Rodrigues, sister islands in the Indian Ocean, would probably come the closest. The fine blend of Indian, French and Creole cultures, mixed with the western influences of tourism, have resulted in a spectrum of vegetarian treats in the former. And the dissociation of the latter from the rest of the world has resulted in unexpectedly delicious fusion food. Here are ten not-to-miss eating places for vegetarians:
VEGETARIAN FOOD IN MAURITIUS
1. Fusion food at Lambic
Lambic (pronounced Lombik) is that quaint beer garden where the “cool” crowd of Port Louis hangs out after work. Set in a well preserved 19th century colonial house, this gastro pub pairs local produce with a mammoth range of beers and whiskies. Though the menu boasts only a handful of vegetarian options, the dishes are delicately crafted to pamper even the pickiest of taste buds. Get the ball rolling with vegetarian spring rolls stuffed with locally sourced veggies and herbs, or a cheesy eggplant gratin, paired with the floral delight of a Gouden Carolus beer. Raise the bar with a vegetarian kofta, soaked in hollandaise sauce and accompanied by aromatic rice flavoured with local herbs, a delicious fusion of the Indo-French cuisine, paired with the local Dodo Island brew on tap. After a day of sightseeing and sunbathing, make yourself comfortable on the rustic benches, kick back with a couple of beers in the dim lighting, and let the banter flow.
2. Local street food in Port Louis
There is nothing like the culinary experience of sampling local street food in an exotic country. In Mauritius, Dhal-puri has acquired something of a national status; a wheat flour roll, stuffed with lentils, veggies and pickles, it comes with a distinct spicy flavour that immediately awakens your taste buds and leaves you craving for seconds. Club it with the savory gateau piment, balls of lentil fried golden brown and served with local chutneys, and end off the spicy treat with aluda, the Mauritian version of the Indian falouda. Chances are, the gregarious locals will engage you in casual conversations as you queue and devour their street food, and you’ll leave with as much an appreciation of the food as their camaraderie.
3. Breakfast at Mon Choix
An open-air breakfast overlooking the mountains and sugarcane fields of Mauritius above, and Port Louis and the sea below, is a luxury that might be around only while one of the last ecotourism pockets of Mauritius in Vallee De Pretres survives. The French couple who run Mon Choix Lodge prove that the French know their breakfast as well as their architecture; as a guest of the family, you can devour a variety of eggs, croissants, baguettes, gateau piment, jams, butter, cheeses, savoury snacks, juices, teas and coffees, admiring the beauty of Mauritius’ interiors from an airy verandah, which is almost always passed up for its sea side indulgences.
4. Creole food at Chez Tino
Whether or not you are experimental with your food, leaving Mauritius without trying Creole food is almost like leaving Italy without trying pizzas! Settle in on the breezy terrace of Chez Tino in Trou D’eau Douce, overlooking the turquoise waters below and the island of Ile Au Cerfs beyond. Start with the ubiquitous gateau piment and breads to set the mood, followed by a full-fledged Creole meal, comprising vegetarian rougaille, dhall (daal), rice and fresh chutneys. The local Phoenix brew will complement the meal, the ambiance, and the flavors to perfection.
5. Mediterranean food at La Faya
In an outdoor patio overlooking the private beach at Le Meridien Ile Maurice, a friendly waitron serves up a platter of freshly baked flax-seed bread, an exotic mix of apple pickles and chutneys spiced with local herbs, and a test-tube of cream cheese to whet your appetite. You order a Sega, an in-house concoction of rum, lime and sugarcane juice, and sip to the sound of crashing waves. A customizable three-course meal awaits you; appetizers range from cold tomato soup to mushroom ragout, succulent pastas are cooked to perfection, and desserts span chocolate trilogies to marshmallow puddings. A candlelight meal here, with the gentle music playing in the background, a personal touch to the service, and the cosy seaside ambiance, is the perfect way to woo that special someone.
6. French food at Les Copains d’Abord
Vegetarian indulgence at Les Copains d’Abord, located in the waterfront setting of the historical town of Mahebourg, starts with fresh bread and a complimentary serving of gateau piment accompanied by locally crafted chutneys. You can while away time with a soup or salad, or a basket of savory snacks, but you’d much rather skip to the not-to-miss vegetarian specialty – the deep forest mushroom pancakes, a flavorful mix of wild mushrooms blanketed in a savory pancake, layered with cheese, and flavored with local herbs. Give in to the temptation of round two, but only if you can save space for a sinful French dessert. The laidback ambiance of Mahebourg and the ever-changing shades of blue in the water will give your meal blissful company.
7. Breakfast at Chez Pat
If the most stunning stretches of the east coast of Mauritius seem cordoned off by five-star resorts, make your way to Blue Bay, a protected lagoon of blue ecstasy. Take a detour to Chez Pat (chez means “at the home of” in French) for a hearty breakfast, served almost fresh from the bakery, with a delectable combination of breads and eggs, and a mouth-watering variety of cheeses, jams, cakes, yoghurts and juices. The company of Patrick, the host, is a delight in itself, and the beach is a two-minute walk from his beautiful flower-covered abode.
VEGETARIAN FOOD IN RODRIGUES
8. Table d’hôte at Cases a Gardenias
Rodrigues, Mauritius’ sister island, is sprinkled with the French tradition of table d’hôte, which literally means “host’s table”. The Belgian-Mauritian couple at Cases A Gardenias has opened up their tastefully designed house for a classy dining experience. A homemade concoction of limoncello, lively dinner table conversations, and Fernand’s refreshing humor, set the pace for the night. Mari-Line’s creativity in the kitchen could surprise you with anything ranging from her rendition of Indian food to a potpourri of vegetarian dishes that could make even Michelin Star chefs proud. Throw in a bottle of red wine, French music on the gramophone, and after-dinner liqueur, and you know this is an experience that will linger on in your heart.
9. Pizzas at Aux 2 Freres
In a quiet corner of Port Mathurin, Aux 2 Freres’ story started with two brothers, but the second best pizza joint on the island wooed one away! Soak in the laid-back pace of life on the island on a balcony ideal for people watching, with English music playing at the bar in the background. In a few minutes, you are devouring a pizza with a crust so thin and veggies so well blended in the cheese, that you wonder what you’ve been eating in the name of pizza all this time.
10. Street food at Anse Aux Anglais
On the public beach of Anse Aux Anglais, you’ll find an unassuming little stall almost always surrounded by locals. Before you diss it as another seafood joint, you must know that the lady who runs it has a magic recipe for Rodrigues’ own version of the Mauritian dhal-puri; it is called Faratha Special, and in its vegetarian version, it is a pan-cooked roll of wheat flour, filled with a lip-smacking potato curry, the ingredients of which are hard to decipher even upon multiple tries. For the price you pay, this has to be the most economical and tastiest meal you can find!
What are your favorite vegetarian eats in Mauritius? Which ones do you most want to try?