In the year 1940 a large number of Chinese immigrants set foot in Mauritius in search of trade business under the French and British rule. They started settling around Royal Road, in the heart of Mauritius' capital, Port Louis and this is how the Mauritian Chinatown's birth took place.
This unique area is home to its local celebrities, famed all around the country. Speaking of few, Mrs Kwok, the most revered fortune teller in the country ? and a host of quite wise and traditional Chinese ?pharmacy? owners, who have with them medicinal herbs, preserved insects, tea, spices, and other so-called "magical" supplies that are believed to cure incurable diseases. According to the World Factbook by Central Intelligence Agency, only about 3 per cent of the Mauritian population ethnic Chinese. However, it is interesting to know that Chinese-style dishes at restaurants and food stalls and Chinese products like home decoratives are immensely popular in the country.
How Chinatown Evolved Over Years
The elderly say that there were times when neighbours – unlike in present time – maintained family-like relations with each other. Children at that time even shared the same school textbooks. They often played together and grew up to teach the younger generations the value of friendship and sharing. Traces of past remain despite the economic progress and the shift of families from one area to another and breaking up of families from joint to nuclear. Mandarin is still actively taught in middle schools in the area, and the streets are marked with well-maintained pagodas. The last few remaining old inhabitants of Chinatown take pride in their traditions and culture and strive to keep it alive. The younger generations – the Sino-Mauritians – too give out a helping hand in maintaining the culture
What to Expect – Shopping and Food
Chinatown is fascinating. It arouses curiosity and tantalises the taste buds. There's something for everyone here, and you can about find whatever you need. Watches, clothes, shoes, home decor, second-hand goods, Chinese paintings, and much more are sold in small shops on the street. Take the Win Tai Chong store, for example. When the Chinese New Year is around the corner– pyrotechnic enthusiasts are on their shopping spree to pick up their favourite items for celebrities. This is also the time when the shop’s dried and pickled vegetables and a variety of sauces are placed on the shelves for display on the spices aisle. You can smell it just when you enter the store, and the smell lingers around in your head for a while. The store packs a crowd of shoppers which then spill on the street outside. It is chaos, but it is also fun at the same time.
Further up the street, you'll find a picturesque store tucked in the street, known as the Atlantic Store. You would want to enter the place even if you didn't plan to earlier, for the windows of this store display eye-catching porcelain and musical instruments so striking that it would mesmerise you to have a closer look. Step inside the store to find a treasure full of toys, firecrackers, vintage items, hand-held fans, and other unexpected objects. It is a store straight out of Pinterest. There's a 'boulettes' (dim sum) vendor just beside the store where you could treat your taste buds with local Chinese cuisine.
Annual Chinatown Food and Cultural Festival
In the modern and fast-changing era, Chinatown is continually evolving along with the rest of Mauritius, yet somehow it manages to keep its authenticity. Chinatown, during the annual Chinatown Food and Cultural Festival, is a sight you wouldn't want to miss. The area morphs into a celebration ground, with the rhythmic drum beats and music in the background and a vibrant and colourful night sky with fireworks. You will also find beautiful Chinese lions dancing here and there. The street turns into performing stages for artists – painters, dancers, musicians, acrobats, calligraphists, and many more who come from all over the country to participate in the celebrations and madness. Families rejoice in this beautiful festival. Kids sitting on their parents’ shoulders to have a glance at the marvellous, long and silky dragon makes up for an adorable sight and calls for a camera click or two.
Food stalls brim with crowds. Varieties of dishes like the bol renverse, a fried-egg stir-fry that consists of chicken, carrots, broccoli with oyster and soy sauce, prepared in Chinese rice wine, and then textured and thickened by adding some amount of cornstarch. It is a treat to your taste buds. Shops are brightly decorated with gold, and red Chinese lanterns and shopkeepers display their best products for this night. Later in the night, the streets are closed for vehicles and are open for dance performances.
Immerse yourself in culture up close in the Chinatown area in Port Louis for a memorable time and an experience unlike any other. The place has a rich history and is also a living proof that shows authentic culture can be maintained even in today's fast-paced life.
You can come anytime to find a large crowd in Chinatown as it is an ideal hangout place, offering excellent shopping and food options. The area is lively throughout the year. But the best time to come to Chinatown is in May when the Annual Chinatown Food and Cultural Festival is held.
How to Reach Chinatown
Chinatown is located in the capital city of Port Louis and can easily be accessed via a taxi, private vehicle or bus. Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport, located in Plaine Magnien is close to 50 km away from Chinatown. You can also catch a bus from the most popular bus stations in Port Louis – Immigration Square and Victoria Square Terminus.