Markets in Mauritius are feasts for all senses. Hustle and bustle; vendors calling out their wares and prices in Creole; the smell of sweat, incense, salted fish and sweet pineapples; bargains and rip-offs. My favourite part of any market is the fresh fruit and vegetable section. Having grown up in Port Louis, I would know all the nooks and crannies of the place.
I loved watching the symmetrically stacked plump, red tomatoes, green beans, big plum orange pumpkins, ‘margoze’, ‘pipengaille’, ‘callebasse’, the piles of cassava; baskets full of herbs for making creole curry; and a multitude of other colourful things which add to the atmosphere and show the variety that the Mauritian consumes on a daily basis. Rice and baguette being the staple carbs, Mauritians cooks along 3 to 4 different vegetables for a single meal, along side might come the fried fish or the meat daube. Not to forget that no meal is complete without its ‘cravate’ as per the local adage – a chutney and pickle should always be present. My Brit husband now is used to it, and totally demands his coco chutney or a ‘chatini cotomili’, coriander and tomato chutney.
The touristic parts of market requires a wide berth though. The last thing you need is some vendor trying to convince you that you need a plastic dodo made in China, or a frilly sega dress for your child. A medley of Mauritian and Madagascan, Indonesian, Indian, African crafts await the naive tourist who can easily get ripped off, if not attentive. However, a large variety awaits you, if you are in for a search, the Mauritian travels a lot and is very entrepreneurial. Beware of the touts, unlike the passive shop owners, get your price from teh man behind the counter.
The market in Port Louis is tourist heaven and hell at the same time. You will definitely get hustled here, but the fresh produce section is the best (and most photogenic) on the whole island. Unless you are looking to buy (and haggle for) cheap souvenirs, give the tourist section a miss. Instead, take your time soaking up the atmosphere in the large fruit and vegetable hall where the locals come to shop for dinner. If you can handle the smell of unrefrigerated, raw meat take a look in the various halls opposite the road from the vegetable section, each dedicated to a particular product (beef, goat, poultry, fish etc.).
Textile used to be one of the Mauritian economy’s Three Pillars together with sugar and tourism. Although IT and commerce have now overtaken the traditional industries, there is still high quality clothes and textiles produced here that can be bought at real bargain prices. A block of several streets sell textiles at knock out prices. The only hic is finding a tailor in situ to match the bargain buy. Mauritians are used to get their curtains changed almost two or once each year for the New Year or some festival. Buying linen is a hobby, and getting your trousseau done is still prevalent, apart from the bride dresses made from scratch. Habberdashry shops would put your regular UK’s John Lewis departmental shops to shame by their variety and price.
For a more hassle-free experience, take a stroll along the streets leading up to Chinatown and the Muslim quarters around Jumma Masjid (one of the largest mosques in Mauritius). The road between the Chinese gates (Royal Road, between Dr Joseph Riviere and La Paix streets) is mostly hardware shops but the side streets are bustling with little shops and stalls selling everything from roasted peanuts to Chinese medicine and Muslim prayer beads and (caps).
I love street food. Little bite-sized morsels that give you a real taste of the place that you are visiting. At the market, on a street corner or at the beach; anywhere you go in Mauritius you’ll find delectable snacks. With such a diverse population, you’ll always find something new and interesting. Here are some of my favourites:
This is a little deep fried dough ball, filled with lentils. If you want to (and I strongly recommend you do), the vendor will break it open and drizzle a chutney over it. . Street stalls that sell Chana Puri also sell all sorts of other deep fried snacks, go wild and taste one of each! An assortment of chutneys wre present for generous dousing, on your ‘dipain frire’ battered deep fried toast, samousa, ‘gato arouille’ yam fritters, ‘bajia’ plain fritters, ‘gato brizelle’ aubergine slices in batter and fried … delicious ! It is a regular affair for Mauritians who snack on them for a quick bite or afternoon tea. Not good if you are watching your waistline. But hey! you need to taste them for once!
Similar to a Chinese dim sum, ‘boulettes’ are little dumplings made with fish, pork, vegetables or meat, served in a tasty broth and drizzled with spring onion and green chili paste. Sometimes, you also have the option of adding noodles. Another Chinese style food. More a full meal than a snack, but too good not to include here. You can chose between fried or boiled noodles (the fried ones are drier whereas the boiled ones are served in a broth), and then you select your ingredients (chicken, egg, beef etc.). Personally, I really like the vegetarian made of chatotes called ‘saw mai’, ‘mine frire’ fried noodles, ‘teo kon’ stuffed Tofu, and crispy wontons roughly complet the Chinese street food tabelau. Not to forget the unmissable dash of homemade Chinese chili sauce (beware, the Mauritian chili is HOT). Drive to the beach, watch the turquoise lagoon, white crested waves, surfers, and sometimes dolphins…. isn’t this a good life?
Another little deep fried snack, and probably one of the most famous ones. It’s a small ball, made with ray chick pea paste, chili and herbs. Although the name means chili cake, they are not very hot but that can always be cured by dipping them in chili paste. Make sure you get them fresh and still warm, as they tend to get dry fairly quickly. My husband has become an afficionado now, and a ‘gato pima’ moment is always a happy moment in our home in the UK. Chilly Winters marry well with chilli fritters, ‘c’est bon pour le moral’ as we say in French. It is good for the mood, indeed true! Not me says so, but the doctors.
My favourite beach snack! The Victoria pineapple is world famous for its fine flavour, I paid a fortune for one in an Asia store in France. Small, incredibly sweet Victoria pineapples are peeled and quartered, then doused with a chili sauce and drizzled with chili salt. The combination of sweet, hot and salty is phenomenal, and totally worth the red, burning lips you inevitably will have afterwards. Nevermind, just take a dip in the sea to rinse sticky fingers and cool down your lips!
The pickle vendor might also be selling pickled mango, cucumber, and other tropical fruits along. Try them, they are a surprise !
‘Di pan frire’ served with tomato, coriander chilli paste is a favourite. The chilli paste is served with everything. I even had them in a Mauritian restaurant in Paris XI out of home sickness, they were phenomenal, and it seemed that they had a wide pool of followers by what I saw on the tables.
Can we finish by the no. 1 national street food ? The Dhal Puri. An institution in itself. It is a fine pancake made of flour and Gram Dhal with spices. It is baked upon the iron cast tawa and is completed by its filling consisted of ‘carri Gros Pois’ butter beans and potato curry, ‘Rougaille’ tomato sauce Mauritian style, an optional ‘carri Bredes Songes’ taro greens cooked in the callalou manner, ‘achard legumes’ mix vegetables pickles, green chilli chutney …. folded and eaten on the side of road, as it should not even get warm, it is best eaten hot ….. a blast !
Here you go, …. apart from the Michelin starred Chefs who work for the 30 five stars,(Mauritius has the highest number of luxury 5-star hotels in the world) hotels of the island, displaying their culinary wonders to you, there is the best to be discovered on the streets of the island.