Nova Scotia

Mauritian woman brings taste of home to the Maritimes

Five years after leaving her government job in Nova Scotia, Malini Veerassamy-MacDonald has brought Mauritian food to Halifax — and given her two children a connection to their roots.

'It's a beautiful island. I think it deserves to be showcased somehow here,'

Malini Veerassamy-MacDonald started her business, Taste of Mauritius, five years ago. (Emma Davie/CBC)

A Mauritian woman who spent years working for the Canadian and Nova Scotia governments says her leap of faith to start her own business has paid off.

Five years after starting Taste of Mauritius, Malini Veerassamy-MacDonald has brought the African island's food to Halifax — and given her two children a connection to their roots.

What began as weekly takeaway food has grown to include catering and selling her spice blends across the Maritimes.

"I thought, 'I'm going to give it a year,'" Veerassamy-MacDonald said about starting the business.

"To my surprise, it actually took off faster than I had planned or expected."

'Follow your heart'

After building her career as a visual communication designer, her term position with the provincial government was coming to an end, so she decided to take a risk.

"It's not a decision to take lightly...But you also need to follow your heart and be happy at the end of the day," she said.

Veerassamy-MacDonald said the original intent for Taste of Mauritius was to showcase her country through the cuisine.

"Food culture back on the island is huge," she said.

"It's what brings family together and from a young age, you're always in the kitchen cooking."

Taste of Mauritius offers catering services and sells spices across the Maritimes. (Emma Davie/CBC)

Veerassamy-MacDonald was born in Newfoundland, but her family moved back to Mauritius when she was a child. The island's population is almost 1.3 million people, while the island itself measures roughly 2,000 square kilometres, which is a little more than one-third the size of Prince Edward Island.

For university, she decided to return to Atlantic Canada.

She eventually married a fellow islander — a Cape Bretoner — and the two settled their family in Halifax.

Veerassamy-MacDonald has used generations of family recipes for her business. (Malini Veerassamy-MacDonald)

But Veerassamy-MacDonald wanted to make sure her children still had a connection to Mauritius, while living 14,000 kilometres away.

"I wouldn't want them to talk about their mom as like I'm a story, like, I come from this place called Mauritius that they knew of," she said.

"I wanted them to be able to live it at a distance still, so anything I can do to incorporate that in our lifestyle, and this certainly has helped."

Family recipes

Veerassamy-MacDonald uses family recipes, passed down from generations, while also blending Canadian and Mauritian dishes.

While preparing for several catering events in early December, she was making what's known in Creole as boulettes de poisson, or fish bites, and korma-spiced meatballs with a cashew dipping sauce.

A few years ago, she decided to start selling her spices separately after many customers asked where they could get the ingredients to make their own Mauritian dishes.

Now, you can buy the spice blends throughout Halifax and at a few spots in New Brunswick and P.E.I.

Yash Saddul is in his final year of engineering at Dalhousie University. He works part time at Taste of Mauritius. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

Her husband, Chris MacDonald, said he and the kids are really proud of the business.

"I'm always kind of amazed by how much work she's put into it...It's not work for her, it's her passion," he said.

"She loves the island of Mauritius. She likes spreading the news about where she came from."

Mauritius is located in the Indian Ocean, about 900 kilometres off the eastern coast of Madagascar. Almost 1.3 million people live on the island. (Malini Veerassamy-MacDonald)

Veerassamy-MacDonald hosts an annual Mauritian night and hires university students part time to help her with the business.

"We got to have different foods, sometimes a fusion of Canada and Mauritian. It was a really good experience," said Yash Saddul, an engineering student at Dalhousie University.

Saddul said even now, most people have never heard of his home.

"Each time I have to show them on Google where it is," he said with a laugh.

Malini Veerassamy-MacDonald and her husband, Chris MacDonald, stand with their two children, Keenan and Ella, on a family trip to Mauritius. (Kavita Mardemootoo)

Veerassamy-MacDonald said she hopes Taste of Mauritius can teach Canadians about her home.

"It's a beautiful island. I think it deserves to be showcased somehow here," she said.

"I'm proud of where I'm from. I miss it tremendously. And there is something to be said about that connection that you have with where you grew up."