With robust mix of culinary cultures, Mauritian food is both familiar and exotic

By December 18, 2017Interesting

Alone boat bobs along the clear blue of the sea. Is there a patient fisherman on board, looking to catch a quick-finned, elusive blue marlin? Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and The Sea is on my mind as I watch from the powdery white sands of Le Saint Geran, possibly Mauritius’ most secluded beach. Far away from Cuba, where Hemingway’s story is set, the warm waters of Indian Ocean lap around me. The man in the boat is more likely to be a tourist engaged in line fishing. Yet, it is not the brilliant shades of blue — turquoise merging with indigo — that inspire contemplation.

It is the marlin. One of the world’s quickest and most beautiful fishes, the blue marlin is the holy grail for sport-fishers. While it is overfishing in the Atlantic that may have given cause for worry, here, in the bountiful waters of eastern Mauritius, it is not endangered. Sighting it is common — both in the deep blue and on your table. The evening before, chef Vikash Coonjan at Prime One&Only, Le Saint Geran, one of Mauritius’s hot spots, had paired for us fresh seafood with other local ingredients, and wines from South Africa, the neighbouring country.

On his menu was smoked marlin, thinly sliced, cured almost like a gravlax (the Norwegian technique of curing salmon with a dry marinade of sugar, salt and herbs), served with an unusual dash of local honey. There was tuna rubbed with sesame, inspired by Mauritius’ Indian heritage, and then there were sauteed scallops topped with a frothy emulsion scented with vanilla from the island’s plantations. Everything was a homage to the country’s natural bounty and its mixed cultural heritage. That is what makes Mauritian food so exciting. A robust mix of culinary cultures — Dutch, French, English and Indian — and the potent, abundant African ingredients give food that is at once familiar yet exotic.

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