The Island of Mauritius is located east of Madagascar.

Mighty, Mysterious Mauritian Mazavaroo

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By Leyla Loued-Khenissi

The Island of Mauritius is located east of Madagascar.

The Island of Mauritius is located east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.
It was once the home of the now-extinct dodo bird.



Salata Mechouia Nablia

Hey kid, wanna fly?

In our time, it seems that everyone knows everything already. Globalization and democratization have done much to render the novel find a rare one. So, I believe you’ll share my enthusiasm about my newest discovery: the mighty Mazavaroo from the island of Mauritius. Like most spice enthusiasts, I’ve been willing to open my mouth wide to nearly all offerings of new spicy condiments. The search for the next greatest one is an unending quest.

Mauritius is known for its exotic beaches.

Mauritius is known for its exotic beaches.

I grew up in a Tunisian household in the United States. Our home furnishings didn’t belie our origins in any particular way but for one clue that any discerning eye would recognize: the eternal presence of harissa* at the kitchen table. I can’t think of a time when I did not see a jar, bottle or bowl of the red stuff sitting squarely on the table. I also can’t think of a single dish (barring desserts) that my mother will not adorn with harissa. For a long time the only harissa available to us was a rather ubiquitous canned one from Tunisia, not the best tasting one, by any means. Every once in a while my mother would sneak the homemade version, “harissa ‘arbi” (Arab harissa), back from a trip to the old country.

My mother avidly engaged in the quest for different spicy condiments during my childhood, eagerly pouncing on any opportunity to visit ethnic stores in search of the Next Big Thing. She tried Chinese, Thai, Mexican and Chinese concoctions before finally settling on a Vietnamese one, “harissa vietnamienne.” The one she recalls most fondly, however, is a rare chili paste she tasted while traveling with my father to the Congo. Her eyes almost get misty when she talks about that experience, as one who talks of a love forever lost.

The spice bug eventually spread to me and then on to my husband, a nice all-American boy whose gustatory world I promptly shattered. He caught the bug during a visit to my parents’ house, where we all got so blitzed on a particularly hot salata mechouia that we found ourselves laughing hysterically, noses dripping, at absolutely nothing at all. Salata Mechouia, literally “grilled salad,” is a popular dish in Tunisian cuisine. It consists of mashed grilled bell peppers, tomatoes, garlic and chilies, topped with a high quality olive oil, tuna, olives and occasionally, a hard-boiled egg. It is served cold with pita or French bread.

Mme Yolanda Begue's Ile Rodrigues Mazavaroo
Mme Yolanda Begue’s Ile Rodrigues Mazavaroo

Now that my husband and I are in Switzerland, I can not find my harissa vietnamienne. The most readily available harissa here is an underwhelming sambal oelek. The best things really do come when you least expect them. To escape Zurich’s dreary February weather, we booked a dream vacation to the Island of Mauritius, representative of laid-back exotica at its finest. The island is a little paradise in the Indian Ocean, 1,100 kilometers away from Madagascar. The culture of the island is an effortlessly vibrant confluence of African, Indian, Chinese, French and British currents.

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