In Mauritius, a land where cultures converge rather than collide, the melding of different peoples is never more evident than in its food.
For a country with a relatively recent history, where there were no indigenous inhabitants and every migrant is new to some degree at least, there is a special sense of sharing when it comes to the dining table.
In the town of Pereybere, on the north-western coast of the tiny island, this is obvious in the spectacular array of restaurants that cover everything from French to Thai to Indian and Chinese.
Royal Road, the island's main drag and the main street running through Pereybere, is lined with restaurants, many offering the freshest grilled seafood, including fantastic lobster, mussels and marlin, all freshly caught.
At Wang Thai on the town's edge, the low prices and delicious dishes make for a magnificent combination. The entrees include spring rolls, deep-fried morsels of crispy shells packed with meat and vegetables and satay sticks that could rival those anywhere in Asia.
The Pad Thai is certainly the best I have sampled anywhere, including on several visits to Thailand. It's sweet, sour, salty and tangy all at the same time, the perfectly cooked noodles supplemented by fresh meat and veg. Yum.
Lonely Planet dubs this upstairs place, with its balcony seating and teak décor, as "[l]ong the best restaurant in town and a pioneer of authentic Thai food in Mauritius".
While the food there is undeniably fantastic, we cannot support the notion that this is the best restaurant in town. For the price – a two-course meal will set you back about $18 – this place definitely wins. But Wang Thai has a newish rival in Flowers of Paradise.
Attached to a hotel in Beach Lane, just a few metres from Royal Road, Flowers of Paradise offers a small but spectacular menu of largely French cuisine, with the occasional fusion dish.
An entree of lobster ravioli in a truffle-infused cream sauce is unbelievably divine, the creamy, saucy soup delivering a coating of truffle flavour to my mouth. The foie gras-stuffed beef filet that follows is out of this world and exceptionally tender, a beautifully cooked piece of meat that is full of flavour and properly seasoned.
The seared tuna steak is another standout among the mains and the tuna tartare is so fresh, the French proprietor offers the slab as a showpiece to diners seated at their tables. The tartare is flecked with red onions and comes with a passionfruit sauce that brings the perfect balance of sour to the dish. Every mouthful was a delight for me.
A complementary amuse bouche precedes each meal and the desserts too are a thing of wonder. The service is both friendly and faultless. It's pricey for Mauritius – think along the lines of $40 for two courses, and the drinks and wine list are both extensive and expensive.
Pereybere has its own Chinese restaurant too but the Sino sampling might be best in nearby Grande Baie, a 20-minute walk or short bus ride away.
Here, in a tiny little corridor of a shop is Boulette Ti Kouloir, where dumplings – steamed meat morsels called boulettes, not unlike tiny sui mai – are sold in bowls of tasty, steaming broth.
I gulped down the dumplings - savoury and soft, bobbing in their pool - and contemplated another round, they were so good.
Fried noodles topped with egg round out a small but beautifully executed menu of snack foods. It's a no-nonsense place, jam-packed with locals getting their fill for a pittance. Yes a pittance. It's $2.25 for eight boulettes, which is great on every level.
In this island of cultural contrasts, the food is a spectacular highlight. Prices and comfort level are as varied as the cultures themselves, but here, you get at least what you pay for – and often much, much more.
In the tiny town, Hotel Pereybere is one of the more substantial offerings, with double rooms from about $77 - and that includes a huge cooked-to-order breakfast at the adjoining cafe/bar. See Hotel Pereybere
Rooms are also available at Flowers of Paradise.
Wang Thai, Beach House, Royal Road, Pereybere
Flowers of Paradise, Beach Lane, Pereybere
Boulette Ti Kouloir, School Lane, Grand Baie. No website, no phone ... and absolutely no reason not to go.
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