Mauritius is an interesting juxtaposition of different flavours and tastes, all interwoven with its rich cultural heritage. The island’s European influence, coupled with a diverse Asian and African contingent, has created one of the best fusion cuisines in the world today. Mauritian cooking is rich with Indian and Chinese flavours, combining the raw tropical ingredients of the island with the basics of French and Indian cuisine. The vast use of aromatics and a large variety of herbs and spices in most dishes is why Mauritian cuisine is packed full of flavour. Most Mauritian dishes are served with rice, lentils, or vegetables. Curries and rougailles are extremely popular in most homes, and often come with the traditional green chilli and several archards or pickles on the side. Beyond its tantalizing taste, Mauritian cuisine also offers a range of nutritional benefits.
As a Mauritian by birth and having grown up running around my mom’s feet as she cooked for the family, I have a deep love and appreciation for the diversity and uniqueness of Mauritian cuisine. As a qualified nutrition expert, I value local food and ingredients, along with promoting healthy habits and sustainability. In this article, we will delve into the key components of Mauritian cuisine and highlight its nutritional value of this flavorful culinary tradition.
1. Abundance of Fresh Seafood:
As an island nation, it comes as no surprise that seafood plays a prominent role in our Mauritian cuisine. Fresh catches like fish, prawns, crab, and octopus are widely used in various dishes. Seafood is not only a delicious protein source but also provides essential omega-3 fatty acids and essential minerals such as iodine and selenium, which support brain health and cardiovascular well-being. Grilled fish served with aromatic herbs and spices is a popular choice among locals and visitors alike.
2. Vibrant Tropical Fruits & Vegetables:
Mauritius is blessed with a rich variety of exotic fruits and vegetables, which add vibrancy and nutritional value to the local cuisine. Pineapple, mango, lychee, papaya, and passion fruit are just a few examples of the mouthwatering fruits. These fruits are not only refreshing but also rich in dietary fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants.
When it comes to vegetables, Mauritian cuisine showcases an array of options such as chayote (chouchou), taro root (arouille or violette), cassava (manioc), plantains (banana vert) and pumpkin. These vegetables are often incorporated into curries, stews, and stir-fries, providing dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals essential for maintaining a balanced diet. Fiber aids digestion, helps maintain a healthy weight, and reduces the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
Chouchou – Chayote
This pear-shaped fruit is eaten as a vegetable. It can be either sauteed as a side dish to accompany rice or bread, in curries or even added to a gratin or salad. It is known as chayote (America), christophine (France) or choko (Australia). To prepare the chouchou, always wear gloves as it’s skin often has a sticky sap which may irritate your hands. Cut off the chouchou’s head, halve it lengthwise and immediately drop it into water. Use the knife blade to scrub the inside of the fruit. Peel the skin off the chouchou and slice it thinly crosswise. We also use the leaves of the chayote as a dark green, leafy veggie, and it is often used to make bouillon or touffes.
Banane vert, or green banana, an unripe banana or plantain, is mostly starch and a large portion of this starch is resistant starch which is good for the intestine. The ripe version of the banana is used as a fruit while the unripe version is a vegetable. It can used in many different ways. Remove the skin and it can be used in chips, curries, or touffes, or boiled and added to a salad.
3. Balancing Flavours with Rice & Legumes:
Rice is a dietary staple in Mauritian cuisine, often served alongside various curries, seafood, or stir-fried dishes. Whole-grain rice varieties provide fiber, vitamins, and minerals, while helping to create a balanced meal when combined with other components of the dish.
Legumes (pulses) also hold a significant place in Mauritian cuisine. Dishes such as lentils soup, red/white bean daube, ‘dholl’ with veggies are common and these are excellent sources of plant-based protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. They provide sustained energy and promote satiety, making them a valuable addition to a well-rounded diet
4. Spice It Up with Local Herbs & Spices
Ingredients like curry leaves, coriander, turmeric, ginger, and garlic not only add depth and complexity to the cuisine but also offer several health benefits. Turmeric, for instance, contains the active compound curcumin, known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Coriander is the most commonly used herb, and it is used to garnish local dishes or blitz with tomato and chilli to make a chutney. I love coriander – the colour, the flavour and the smell! Even the seeds are used in the preparation of masala curry powder. Curry leaves and thyme are also used as the base in mostdishes. In Mauritian cooking, the key to that authenticity comes in the form of the curry leaves (carri poulé) – an essential ingredient which adds a fundamental flavour not only to local Indian cuisine, but also to fricassees, fish soups and our spicy, homegrown tomato-based Creole Rougaille. The combination of these herbs and spices in Mauritian dishes not only adds a burst of flavor but also contributes to overall well-being.
Mauritian food can sometimes be quite spicy too. We use lots of green or red chillies in some dishes and satinis (chutneys). It’s all about the balance of flavours and to remember to keep tasting what you’re making as you go along, so you can adjust the seasoning and spicing if needed.
Mauritian Cuisine is a treasure trove of flavours, colours, and nutritional value.
By combining fresh seafood, exotic fruits, aromatic herbs, spices, whole grains, and legumes, the Mauritian diet offers a balanced and diverse range of nutrients. By embracing the richness of Mauritian food traditions, individuals can enjoy a wholesome and nourishing diet that promotes overall health and well-being. As a dietitian, I encourage you to explore and savour the vibrant Mauritian cuisine, appreciating both its cultural richness and its potential to support a healthy lifestyle.
Do check out our unique Mauritian cookbook – ‘My Mauritian Kitchen‘. This cookbook revisits the main classical Mauritian recipes and aims to make them even more ‘nutrilicious’ – delicious & nutritious! My hope is that while using this book, you develop the same passion for healthy Mauritian cooking that I feel every time I enter my kitchen.
Note: While this blog post highlights the nutritional aspects of Mauritian cuisine, individuals with specific dietary requirements or health conditions should consult with a qualified healthcare professional or dietitian for personalized advice.