Growing up in south London, Selina Periampillai spent every summer back in her parents’ native Mauritius. She recalls the aroma of caramel molasses from the sugar cane fields and the fresh sea air from the nearby coast. Describing it all, the chef and author is joyous, but also a touch wistful. “I know I’ve arrived in Mauritius when my dad and uncle come to pick me up from the airport, as they’ll have picked up some fresh, crisp samosas with chilli chutney purchased from a local street vendor,” says Selina. If it weren’t for Covid-19, she would be be there right now.
Food is incredibly important to Mauritians, its French, Indian and Creole influences a history lesson in itself, indicating the country’s colonial past. You will just as easily find dumpling soup in some Mauritian restaurants (a leftover from when Chinese merchants set up in Port Louis) as curries and birianis. This rich mix of heritage is what Selina wanted to bring to Britain through Taste Mauritius (tastemauritius.com), her supper clubs.
Every second year, she goes back to Mauritius, furthering her knowledge of the island and its cuisine with My Moris tours (mymoris.mu). “I’ve been on three of them now,” she says. “They’ll take you on a two-hour tour around Port Louis and they go to all these little places. It’s a bit more for the culinary adventurer, someone who wants to learn about the cuisine or a bit more about the culture. I learnt something new and exciting on each tour I did – and they were all totally different.”
Another way to immerse yourself in the Mauritian culinary landscape is to pay a visit to Kot Marie-Michelle (facebook.com/kotmariemichelle), a table d’hôte in the Midlands. Run by two women who have been “best friends forever”, they give you the chance to cook with them in Marie-Michelle’s rustic outdoor kitchen, learning about Mauritian cuisine all the while. From curries made with venison or wild boar, to traditional dal and roti, you will eat lunch with them, their family and maybe some other people who have stopped by to participate.
Doing things family-style is the Mauritian way, as is making their own rum. Selina recounts how her uncles infuse their “hooch” with the essence of lemon grass or vanilla. But Selina does also make an effort to go to the Chamarel Rum Distillery (rhumeriedechamarel.com) if she can, just so she can bring home a bottle or two of the dark, rich caramel-tasting liquid.
There is also another, secret spot that she never fails to visit. “I try not to tell too many people but there is a really nice winery called Takamaka Boutique Winery (takamakawinery.com). The owners own a really small space of land which they have converted into a winery and they make their own lychee wine. I’ve never had lychee wine and the last time I went I nearly became addicted to it, it was just glorious! They farm the lychees in the northern part of the island, bring them back to the winery and it’s all done by hand – all the fruit and stuff. It’s a joy to watch.”
Read more about Selina Periampillai’s story in The Food Almanac: Recipes and Stories For a Year At the Table (£13.38; blackwells.co.uk), out now. The Island Kitchen is available to buy for £18.74 (wordery.com).