Hungry in Mauritius

MAURITIUS
Touring a tropical island with local chef Ravi Kanhye, Douglas Blyde is our man in Mauritius.

‘Forty percent of Mauritius is covered in sugarcane,’ says Ravi Kanhye, Executive Chef of the Heritage Le Telfair and Heritage Awali resorts.

We are heading to the capital of Port Louis to see the wholesale market, which Ravi calls a ‘paradise of products’. The chef cannot imagine living elsewhere. ‘When I was in South Africa the temperature dipped to twelve degrees, so cold I fell sick. Our winter is twenty!’

Along our journey, I spot a billboard for the self-proclaimed, ‘Famous Phoenix Brewery’. Ravi confirms it is indeed ‘unrivalled’, despite a host of imitators. The sight of a flour mill prompts him to tell me that flour and rice are, ‘basic ingredients of Mauritian food.’ As we near the city, the Mauritius Commercial Bank looms. ‘Great architecture’, applauds Ravi of the big eye-like structure near to the national hotel school. ‘We train staff from scratch who study one day a week there,’ he says. ‘Then other hotels try to steal them!’

The brittle leaves of parched palm trees blur into a sign bearing McDonald’s familiar arches. ‘They came eight years ago,’ says Ravi. ‘But KFC is better. ‘Let’s go to the Kentucky,’ we say in Mauritius!’

We spring from the air-conditioned taxi onto the hectic Saturday tableau. At the sight of a distant police car, less-than-legal hawkers ricochet, towing sacked wares. A display of hallucinogenic leggings rotates while a trader tries but fails to charm an old hag with a posy of plastic flowers. Within the covered market, I see great clumps of chillies, then tomatoes.

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‘The pomme d’amour has firmer skin and higher acid – ideal for cooking,’ says Ravi, clearly in his element. He gestures to green turmeric, ‘good for blood’, and ginger, garlic, onions and coriander. ‘Without these we can’t make Mauritian food,’ he says. Cassava roots look almost petrified while pomegranates blush.

‘We eat lots of leaves in Mauritius,’ Ravi reveals, stroking taro and Chinese cabbage. As I inhale a bushel of aromatic lychee leaves, I note that Ravi has paused like a predatory cat, spying a chef from a rival property. Like Ravi, he ventures here at least quarterly to check prices.

We enter the food hall. ‘Here you eat without knife, without fork, without tissue!’ says Ravi, as we tuck into split-pea-and-cumin-stuffed dhal puri flatbreads. For refreshment, we segue to another stall for tamarind juice; for pudding, we try ‘aloha’ sorbet. Close by, France’s influence shows in a huge wicker trough of baguettes.

When I ask Ravi why we have not visited the apparently racy livestock market, he looks at me quizzically. The resort, it transpires, has its own larder of livestock. When I visit later, my guide Vichal tells me that all four-legged animals were imported to Mauritius, including wild boar and Java deer. ‘There were only bats before – and the dodo,’ he says, with a smirk.

Returning from the market, we take a pit stop at Ravi’s family home on the fringes of Tyack where I meet his gentle-seeming, expectant wife, their vivid, brightly-clothed nine year-old daughter, and horse-sized pet dog, ‘Tiger’. Their spacious home reminds me of the villa in which I am staying back at the resort. ‘Exactly!’ says Ravi. ‘I used to cook private barbecues for up to ten guests in their villas.’

MAURITIUS-Chateau-Bel-Ombre-Restaurant---no-need-to-credit

Bel Ombre Restaurant

Back in the car, Ravi’s phone rumbles, and he issues sparse instructions in Creole for tonight’s three hundred-strong function. At Heritage Le Telfair we transfer to a golf cart to softly roll to Le Château de Bel Ombre, the most upmarket restaurant amongst a dozen options including Amafrooty, where dancers move to djembes drum rhythms around a firepit, and Gin’Ja with its majestic lagoon view and dramatic cooking displays.

Once the preserve of a wealthy sugar merchant, the wood-panelled colonial mansion has seen a lavish restoration. Today, ‘Château’, as Ravi abbreviates it, overlooks not canes but a championship golf course, preened in preparation for an upcoming tournament to be screened to six million viewers.

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At the restaurant, ingredients adhere to Ravi’s evangelical localism, with ninety five percent grown nearby; from palm hearts to pineapples, bananas, and sweet potatoes. Sadly, the chef’s signature lightly-poached deer brain fritters with watercress are not on today’s menu, so I begin with a fine dish of estate pigeon cooked with ginger and citrus. I also try wild boar brawn and silken breadfruit curry, and architecturally-impressive wild boar ribs. Aptly, given the island’s abundance of the substance, I end with sugar – imbibed in the form of locally-distilled, voluptuous, vanilla-infused rum.

MORE IN MAURITIUS

  • The Chamarel plain’s ‘Seven Coloured Earths’ is a curvy landscape of multi-coloured sand dunes, best viewed at sunrise mauritiusattractions.com
    Mauritius
  • Tour Bois Cheri, a century old tea factory/museum, then lunch on abundant local produce at the chalet overlooking the sea boischeri.restaurant.mu 

STAY
Heritage Resorts
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Comprising Heritage Le Telfair, Heritage Awali and Heritage The Villas, Hertitage Resorts boasts a dozen restaurants; a Nature Reserve; a Beach Club, kids’ and teens’ clubs, a babies’ corner; a championship eighteen-hole golf course; a kite-surfing school; and two spas and fitness centres.

Heritage The Villas Along with two to four bedrooms and verandas, barbecues, infinity pools, and golf buggies, villa accommodation also includes unlimited access to facilities at Le Telfair and Awali hotels. A two-bedroom villa costs from £365 per night based on four sharing on a self-catering basis.

heritageresorts.mu  | +230 266 9768 

GETTING THERE
Emirates offers daily flights to Mauritius via Dubai | emirates.com 

Pick up a copy of the October edition of Good Things magazine out on the 2nd. To download a digital copy click here or buy in store at select Waitrose and Tesco stores, WHSmith High Street, WHSmith Travel, Wholefoods, Marks and Spencer and News on the Wharf.


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