The rise in cultural tourism can only be described as stratospheric, as more and more travellers seek authentic experiences. If you identify as a culture aficionado, your travel plans surely involve tracking down the cultural treasures of the country that will give you a peek into its soul. Delve Deep into Mauritius, a hot spot for experiential tourists.
Venture off the beaten path, where you are sure to stumble upon a la boutik, conspicuous in its physical characteristics: small, rustic, often painted in bright colours, complete with a corrugated iron roof, wooden tables, rattan chairs and a welcoming entrance. Mauritius’ version of “the store around the corner”, la boutik is a quintessential feature of the Mauritian landscape. Bearing names like “Père Laval” (a legendary figure in the island’s political history) or “Flic en Flac” (a charming village on the West Coast), they are often key landmarks at the end of any street.
It is the name given to any small, local shop stocking an unbelievable amount of the most surprising and miscellaneous products. The endless wonders beneath the glass panes, from stationary to “gato piaw”, (the Mauritian version of a doughnut) will have you picking up items you did not intend to buy upon walking in. Are you looking for cigarettes? Pop by la boutik. Have you run out of milk? La boutik will have some. Are you having a streak of good luck? Go on to la boutik and buy yourself a lottery ticket! More specifically, make sure to drop by La boutik Coronation, in the bazaar of Port-Louis, popular for having sold a remarkable number of winning Mauritius Lottery tickets!
La boutik is a meeting place for locals living in the area, who get together to share a Phoenix beer, a “gadjack” (snack) or the latest “palab” (gossip) on the captivating lives of their neighbours. It is a common sight to see people – locals and tourists alike – lined up all the way down the road. It is only when you inch closer to la boutik that the delicious aroma of “gato piment” (fried chilly cakes) or hot “roti” (a thin savoury pancake) wafts through the air. As you bite into a “roti agneau” (a roti filled with spicy lamb curry), you have no qualms about going back for seconds. Wash your delectable meal down with a glass of sweet “alouda”, a milk-based drink with basil seeds, similar to bubble tea.
Most striking of all is the amalgamation of Mauritians of all walks of life and ethnicities, which makes la boutik a common link and the centre of social interaction for all locals. Snippets of Creole (Mauritius’ French-based language), and Bhojpuri (a dialect originating from Bihar, India) can be overheard while catching a glimpse of women clad in “saris.”
More than a mere convenience store, la boutik is an illustration of the Mauritian way of life and the heart of community life. La boutik provided relief and employment to families, who commonly lived in the attached residence above the retail section. More importantly, they are etched in the memories of the store-owners’ children, who grew up working in the family-owned shops.
Reminiscent of a simpler era in history, la boutik is an iconic feature of the Mauritian heritage that is worth a visit, or ten. We have picked out a few noteworthy la boutik that should be added to your must-see places on your next trip to Mauritius:
Lennards, which can easily be identified by its striking red color, is conveniently located on the main road of Pointe aux Cannoniers, a short ten-minute drive from Veranda Grand Baie. Renowned for its “pain maison” (a round-shaped fresh rustic bread that is a staple in any Mauritian’s diet), it is customary to catch sight of a long line of people waiting, in the early hours of the morning, for freshly baked bread.
Another notable one is Pak Sen, a la boutik sinoi that has been in the Pak Sen family for over four generations now. Historically the boutik sinoi was held by Chinese immigrants who had set up shop in the countryside, on sugar estates. On Thursdays they would make the long trek to Port Louis to stock up on staple foods (flour, grains…). The Chinese shop owners instigated the famous “carnet rouge,” a credit system that enabled field workers to purchase goods even during the off-season. It is said the carnet rouge (the red notebook in which the shop owner kept track of who owed him) contributed to the emergence of a large middle class. Pop in for a coca glacé, an iced cold drink; the boutik with its volcanic rock steps leading to a porch is fabulous (and only ten minutes away from Veranda Paul et Virginie.)
Tamarin boasts its own widely-known la boutik, sitting right across the famous salt pans, only a stone’s throw away from Tamarin Hotel by Veranda Resorts. Chez Mardaye lures crowds that have a penchant for world-class gato piment and “gato patate” (sweet potato cake). Make your way to this gem before 3 pm lest you miss out on their delicious gadjacks!