A Savory Mix
The cuisine on Réunion Island is as mixed as the population. No dish still has its original taste because each one has been enriched and dressed up through the inspiration of Bourbonnais cooks and outside influences (French, Indian, Chinese, etc.). Dishes from each of these places are sometimes served together during the same meal.
The main local specialty is curry, a savory stew of meats, fish or shellfish, simmered with garlic, onions, ginger, cloves, turmeric, and other local spices. Curry is served with white rice, legumes (beans or lentils) and a spicy condiment called rougail made with tomatoes, lemon, and pistachios.
Rougail sausage is a type of curry made with smoked sausages and has nothing to do with the condiment. The same is true for rougail boucané, which is in fact a type of curry made with smoked pork.
Cabri massalé, originally an Indian dish, is a must-try as well. Traditional Indian cuisine is original and savory. The massalés served in many restaurants are especially tasty. Real Indian curry is eaten on banana leaves instead of plates, which is sure to be an eye-opener!
While it is very different, Indo-Muslim cuisine offers a wide range of aromas, each one as exotic as the next, based on a mix of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. When they arrived on the island at the end of the 19th century, the Chinese brought with them their culinary savoir-faire. Most of these visitors from afar were from Canton, which is one of the food capitals of China.
And of course, you are never far from a good steak-frites or Provencal-style fish. But that’s much less exciting!
Rhums arrangés, which are very popular, are considered a local specialty. Herbs, spices, and fruit are macerated in white rum in order to obtain flavored rum. So many recipes, so little time!
Gastronomy: A Creole Way of Life
In the Creole culture, eating well is paramount.
Therefore, this cuisine is an art filled with secrets from generations of mothers and is passed on to generations of daughters.
Long ago, rice was just a subsistence food. Because no matter how complete it was, it was after all just a side dish. Rice today is an essential part of local traditional cooking and is important as a side dish.
The use of local spices such as cloves, allspice (a leaf from a tree that combines several flavors such as bay leaf, pepper, cinnamon, and cloves), turmeric, country saffron (which is made by grinding the roots of a local plant), and of course ginger and peppers (big or small), which are the pillar of Creole cooking, are skillfully measured, mixed, used, and twisted to obtain new flavors.
Brèdes (local leafy greens) are no longer just the dish of the poor. The best restaurants on the island readily use it in dishes. Various brèdes include chayote leaves, pariétaire (a leaf from the nettle family), Chinese cabbage, watercress, or even Brède Mafane (which anesthetizes the mouth), which is used in Roumazaf, the Madagascan pot au feu.
For several years now, Creole cooks who are passionate about their culinary art have started to reintroduce roots that were once commonly eaten: Songe root, either boiled or cooked as a compote, still delights children and brings parents back to their childhood.
Cambarre gateau is once again a famous cake. Its purple color is surprising, but it is 100% natural goodness.
Breadfruit is eaten boiled, fried, or as a jam.
Traditional nutritious cakes are once again the rage:gâteau patate made with sweet potatoes, corn cake or "gâteau sosso," and cassava cake are here to stay on the best menus. Cooked à l’ancienne under embers between two metal baking sheets, these cakes delight every palate.
The most well-known specialties include curry, rougail sausage, rougail boucané (smoked rougail), and cabri massalé (a spicy goat dish).
Gâteau patate made with sweet potatoes, corn cake or "gâteau sosso," and cassava cake.
“Rhum arranges” or spiced rum.
Rougail Sausage (serves 6)
- 2.25 pounds (1 kg) saucisses de la Réunion (Réunion sausages), smoked and roughly cut. As a substitute use saucisses de Toulouse (Toulouse sausages)
- 3 or 4 onions, finely chopped
- 6 to 8 small tomatoes (variety: olivette or another heirloom variety), diced
- curry leaf
- 4 or 5 garlic cloves
- rice (preferably basmati)
- different legumes (lentils, white beans, butter beans, etc.)
- bird pepper (to taste)
- kaffir lime
Prepare the rice in a rice cooker (steamed rice).
The legumes: heat the legumes in a pot of water with 1 teaspoon of turmeric, 2 sprigs of thyme (preferably fresh). Add salt to taste.
The tomato rougail: mix a diced tomato with a pinch of salt, the bird pepper, and a little kaffir lime zest. Set aside in a cool place.
The sausages: peel the garlic and the ginger. Prick the sausages and then blanch them to remove some of the fat. Cut the sausages in ¾ or 1 ¼ inch (2 or 3 cm) pieces. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil.
Add the sausages to the hot oil. Brown them along with the onions. Once they are nice and brown, drain the excess grease. Cook over low heat with the tomatoes, garlic, ginger, and curry leaf. Let simmer until the sauce is consistent (avoid adding water, as this will dull the taste of the sausages). Sprinkle the dish with chives just before serving.
Serve the rice first, then the legumes over the rice, and the rougail to the side. Always serve the pepper on the edge of the plate.