My name is Vanessa Bathfield and I was born on the tropical island of Mauritius. Where you say? Mauritius is located in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar. I lived there until I was almost 5 years old when my mother, sister and I moved to New Zealand, where I spent my childhood and teenage years. Whilst I don’t remember much about life in Mauritius, I do remember the food because my mother would often cook us a traditional Mauritian lunch, as I do for you today.
Mauritius is known for a few things; being a gorgeous tropical island, it’s a popular romantic destination and great place to have a wedding. Its main export is sugar, particularly Demerera sugar. It was also the home of the Dodo bird.
Mauritius is a relatively small island, only 1158 square miles with 205 miles of coastline. The island features a vast central plateau surrounded by several volcanic mountains, subtropical forests, rivers, streams and gorgeous waterfalls. The beaches are of white sand with crystal clear water out to beautiful coral reefs. Favorite pastimes include swimming, water skiing, diving, deep sea fish, jet skiing, and sunbathing. Everyone in Mauritius has a great tan! Once French, then British, Mauritius is now an independent island and part of the British Commonwealth.
Mauritius is a paradise for the senses, not only for the eyes with its beautiful landscape, but also for the palate. There is a wide variety of flavors and cuisines inherited from the different settlers throughout its history.
Culinary traditions from France, India, China, and Africa have been passed on through generations. When I visited the island in my teens, our vacation was centered on the meals that we would enjoy. Conversations at dinner would revolve around the meal we were presently eating, meals we had previously eaten, and meals we would be eating in the future.
Breakfast would include a selection of delectable French pastries or some of the most inspiring tropical fruit with tastes that explode in your mouth. The passion fruit and pineapple taste like none I’ve had anywhere else. Lunches could be as easy as a simply fried fresh fish caught that morning with a heart of palm salad to a full curry lunch like the one served today. A Mauritian barbecue is like no other – a whole pig slowly roasting on a spit with crispy skin and delicate meat. Dinners were either extravagant gourmet meals served by some of the best hotels in the world, a simple family meal, or a wonderful Chinese meal.
There are two things I remember the most about the cuisine. First, that the seafood and fruit were fantastic, fresh, and flavorful. Second, of course, the curries and their accoutrement – dal (lentils), roti (bread), rougaille (a Creole dish using a spicy tomato sauce), mulligatawny (a wonderful curried chicken soup), gateaux piment (chili cakes sold by street vendors and eaten like hot chips) and wonderful chutneys. I hope you enjoy these recipes.
Thank you to Anna Maria, my wonderful neighbor and inspiration, for allowing me to share these recipes with you.
Vanessa Bathfield is a personal Chef in Los Angeles. Visit her website MOTHER’S HELPING HAND