Sand, sea and Creole flavours… freelance food stylist and blogger Leila Saffarian savours a taste of Exotic Creole in Mauritius …
Recipes: By Leila Saffarian, assisted by Nomvuselelo Mncube
“I was lucky to be sent off on a Mauritian excursion recently and, naturally, I was excited. A quick three-hour flight was followed by a smooth touchdown. Hello vanilla-scented island, hello. “Bonjour Madame”, “Bonjour Monsieur”. I felt all French within five minutes of landing and was wishing some of that island savoir faire would rub off on me so that I could swagger back into the office with newfound French elegance. The French influence in Mauritius is very evident and French is the national language. Many would say that French is also one of the main influences within the Mauritian cuisine and they would be quite correct. Mauritius does, however, have a few other influential cuisines, namely Indian and Chinese, brought to the island by immigrant slaves. With so many strong food cultures, how best to describe the cuisine? It’s a melting pot of all of the above, as well as Creole, the local style of cooking. Creole: fiery flavours combined with French, Indian and Chinese influences that marry to create a spicy, down-to-earth and fragrant cuisine. I did a bit of research before I went island hopping so I knew that spiciness was in store. This was all good with me because, as much as I rely on oxygen to survive, I also rely on my daily dose of chilli. Creole cooking got me all excited as many of its staple dishes include some of my best-loved ingredients. Tomatoes, known as pommes d’amour, play a big role in producing spiced Creole sauces in which to cook fish, chicken or pork. Onions, garlic, fresh chillies and ginger are always found in any traditional Mauritian home. Pork and seafood dishes are often prepared using Chinese influences, combining Creole spices with salty soya sauce or savoury oyster sauce. The preparation of home-crushed spices form the base for many Creole curries, a direct link to the island’s strong Indian heritage. A staple ingredient in Creole cooking is the rougaille, a richly spiced tomato sauce, used for cooking seafood and chicken. For those who venture off the beaten track, Mauritius will have aspiring food photographers clicking away and foodies wishing they had brought a bigger bag.
Local food markets are well known for their fabulous fresh produce. I insisted on finding a market where I could find some succulent, fleshy coconut. Naturally, I hauled a few of the others with me and off we adventured to find the Port Louis fruit and veg market. It’s pretty easy to navigate your way there. Basically, you head in the opposite direction of the very swish Port Louis Waterfront. I marched on and soon we were in the thick of central Port Louis: the streets became narrower, the roads busier, noisier and filled with more local stores, and stalls packed with all sorts of woven baskets, cheap electronic goods and clothing. Food stalls and carts are in abundance, serving fried samoosas, spring rolls and baguettes. Finally, after much pushing through the crowded streets, we took a right and entered a huge old building – food explosion: stalls of fruit and vegetables piled sky high. Spice stalls ensured that a waft of vanilla, turmeric and chilli permeated the air. The bustle of a local market is always fantastic and I was even happier when I found the coconut man – mission accomplished! Fleshy coconut and spices bought, copious amounts of coloured fruit and veg photographed – I was happy. Creole cooking, just like other cuisines, brings with it a set of guidelines. With so many influences, it’s easy to play around. Have a go at some of these easy Creoleinfluenced dishes that will add a touch of the exotic to any table.”
Leila was hosted by The Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority (MPA). www.tourism-mauritius.mu/
Leila Saffarian, Graeme Wyllie, Elie Bernager