In Mauritius, tables for the guests

In Mauritius, tables for the guests

If you choose table d’hôte in Mauritius, you'd opt for non-traditional eateries and traditional flavours of the island

Will travel for food’ — Today, a lot of tourists abide by the phrase and go globetrotting to try the local flavours of the region. Food-tourism has been picking up the pace in European and Japanese countries but the tiny island of Mauritius has been promoting their local food since ages with the help of eateries that are run by local families called — table d’hôte (table of the host).

What makes these table d’hôte stand out from the concept of restaurants is the fact that by rule, they must be owned by the locals from the island. The menu should feature island cuisine. Having said that, there can be a few crowd-pleasing dishes for the guests if the owner feels the need for it. The décor should be homely, make using local art and styles.

Typically, the homeowners set up the table d’hôte in their garden or dining rooms, essentially a stand-alone structure that conveys the authentic local cachet and mirrors the lifestyle of the locals through its local culinary traditions.

Eat differently 

During my visit to the island, I had an opportunity to experience the much-talked-about dining concept. As we entered the premise of Escale Creole (a table d’hôte), a well-kept garden greeted me in with its fresh flowers and fragrances. Our charming host Marie-Christine came upfront in the garden area to say her hellos. Like a perfect host, she brought along with her fritters, chips and cold beverage to get us started before she could hustle back in to set a table for the group.
I curiously walked around the garden, admiring Marie-Christine’s gardening. A patio set up in the yard had the dining area where Marie runs the eatery with her mother.

Wooden benches, antique China, cane lampshades paired with bright curtains and table clothe gave the set-up a beach vibe. The ladies didn’t keep us waiting for food and quickly arranged for an elaborate spread for us.

The menu at a table d’hôte is exactly the opposite of an a la carte one. The host picks out a menu for the day and guests are explained the menu upon arrival. At Escale Creole, they offer two meal options that include a discovery menu that will give you a sneak peek into the Mauritian Creole cuisine. But if you want to go all out, then one can also pick the Gourmet Menu, which is what I did. Once you have made your choice, you can eat your heart out and ask for seconds too.

On the menu

The island of Mauritius was explored by various rulers who added a few influences to the palates of the locals here. So you might find a Tamil-style curry called rougaille made from the local tomatoes from Madagascar and cooked with sausages, onion, garlic and salt. The Persian-inspired curi (curry) is yellow in colour and finds its roots in India. This one uses garam masala and goes well with chicken and venison. The Portuguese gave them their version of vindaye (similar to Goan vindaloo).

Traditionally, the dish was made from vine and garlic, it is said that if you want to get the flavours right, have it a day after when the flavours have been soaked by the meat. The French added to the cuisine their very famous sami.

Similar to a French meat stew, this curry is made from red wine; locals add tomatoes and cinnamon to enhance the flavour.

Also, sami curry usually goes perfectly well with game meat.
While Marie and her mom played the perfect host, I couldn’t help but notice the occasional mother-daughter banter, and her running to her mom to cross-check the recipes.

While a couple of my acquaintances had spoken highly about Mauritian hospitality, this was my first encounter with it. Being a poor eater, when Marie’s mom noticed my plate empty before everyone else’s on the table, she insisted I have a little more.

A table d’hôte also serves local rums to go with your Creole meal, provided they have the required licences for it, just like that at a restaurant. While I choose to enjoy those delicious curries, for dessert I got to sample a gato coco — close to a coconut barfi. With that, our host hurried back in with her favourite rum and poured some for me to try.

During our three-hour-long meal, I learnt about Marie’s family history, her love for the beaches, and even a few holiday escapades, making it even more personal and warm.