A tasty cultural overlap: my 12 favorite culinary experiences in Réunion

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French cuisine is considered to be one of the best in the world. With its cooking techniques, its appreciation of fresh ingredients and flavors, its pride in presentation and its rich and colorful history, French cuisine has become the rule of the world. Technically part of France, but located in the middle of the Indian Ocean, Reunion Island, with its unique geographical position and its link with France, is a gastronomic melting pot of different cultures and tastes. The island’s cuisine draws its unique flavors from centuries of French, Malagasy, Chinese and Indian influences, while making good use of local fruits, vegetables and seafood.

For travelers who like to eat their own way, this small territory has no shortage of interesting dishes to explore. Here are some highlights to check out.

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1. Curry

Curry is considered to be one of the main course in Reunion, and no two curries are identical. This dish can be loosely described as vegetables, meat, fish or even occasionally jackfruit, served in a curry sauce made from turmeric (turmeric), garlic, thyme, onions, of ginger, local saffron and a spicy chili sauce called chilli. The main influence of this staple is Indian Tamil, and you might think of it as a tropical version of a classic curry. Curry is usually served with rice and beans or lentils. It’s a substantial dish, so save it for when you have a big appetite.

For the more adventurous, two of the local specialties are carri tangue (hedgehog) and carri bichique (a small young fish, round-mouthed mutt, a popular luxury ingredient that can sell for $ 50 a pound).

The best curry I had in Reunion was a delicious shrimp version which was just what I needed after a tiring morning hiking in the interior of the island in the rain.

Rougail with sausage on rice
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2. Rougail

This is a delicious spicy chili sauce that can be divided into two categories; the rougail pilon (a chili sauce you’ll find on the side of most dishes) and the rougail cooking pot (which is a main course).

One of the most popular versions of the rougail cooking pot is rougail sausages (sausage) that combines tomatoes, garlic, onions and turmeric with, you guessed it, sausages. Other variations may include cod, herring, eggs, small thin shrimp called chevaquines, and even the floral stems of onions which are added at the end of cooking. For the super adventurous, let me direct you to a local specialty, rougail wasp larvae.

3. Pickled

Achard is a mixture similar to a salad of pickled fruits or vegetables and is part of a typical Creole lunch or dinner. It is usually made with a combination of cabbage, carrots, and green beans, then mixed with ginger, garlic, oil, vinegar, salt, and sometimes chili.

Brèdes;  leafy vegetables that grow on Reunion Island
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4. Brèdes

Brèdes refers to a wide variety of leafy vegetables growing in Réunion which are believed to have their origins in Madagascar or East Africa. Interestingly, the name comes from the Indian word brette, which means “good to eat,” an apt word for this nutrient-dense food. Prepared bredes most closely resemble American cabbage. This dish is so simple, delicious, and packed with nutrients, it’s hard not to love it.

Samosas and salad
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5. Samosas

Samosas in Réunion are small fried triangles, served hot and fresh from street vendors. They are inexpensive and filling snacks. Toppings can be very distinctive in Reunion Island and while some may contain traditional ground beef and onion, more unique flavor combinations may include the rather unique shark or pineapple samosa, or cheese samosa. or a little less daring crab. With such a variety, I wanted to try them all, luckily they are cheap!

Caps on lettuce;  a Chinese influence snack
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6. Plugs

This is a Chinese-influenced steamed snack. They are popular as an appetizer or bar snack. Like Chinese dumplings, they are made with a thin, pasta-like dumpling wrapper and filled with beef, pork, or chicken. Typically, caps are served with a side of hot sauce or soy sauce for dipping. They are really delicious!

The American sandwich
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7. The American

The American, or “American Sandwiches,” can be found in the seaside town of St. Peter’s, where small kiosks sell gooey meat and cheese sandwiches. For just a few euros, beachgoers can stock up on their choice of ham, chicken, hot dog, tuna and corn or American salmon, topped with fries.

The darling, a fruit very present in Reunionese cuisine
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8. The Chouchou

Also known as chayote Where christophineThe scrunchie is a fleshy fruit that looks a bit like a large, misshapen pear and can be eaten raw or cooked and tastes similar to zucchini. Every part of the scrunchie is edible. Its pulp is used in stews, gratins, soups, salads, stuffed tomatoes, cakes and jams. The shoots are prepared like asparagus. The tuber can even be cooked like French fries. Honestly it’s not my favorite, but give it a try!

Excited by the idea of ​​Réunion cuisine? Then sign up for a cooking class with Far Far Kreol. You will spend the morning visiting and buying ingredients at one of the local markets, and the afternoon participating in a Creole cooking workshop.

This whole meal can be thirsty work, so let me give you some tips on what to drink while visiting this island in the sun.

Grapes on the vine
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9. Tropical wines

The tropics aren’t the first place to think about looking for good wine, but Réunion has developed a thriving small wine industry, with vines first imported to the island in 1771 by French settlers. Chenin, Gros Manseng, Malbec, Pinot Noir, Syrah grapes all thrive in the climate, producing reds, rosés and whites that can stand up to mainland French wines.

In private homes you can meet wine that drives you crazy (“The wine that drives you crazy”)! It is a wine made from the Isabelle grape variety, a grape variety banned in mainland France from 1935 to 2003, but which has always been cultivated in Reunion.

Beer in a glass
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10. Island beer

Wherever you are on the island, you will find cafes and restaurants painted in the colors of locally brewed Bourbon beer. Its symbol is a dodo, a large turkey-like bird that once inhabited the islands of the Indian Ocean and has now disappeared. To capture a little of the island’s soul, there’s nothing like tasting a local beer accompanied by some samosas. There is even a lychee flavored dodo beer known as Metis.

11. Reunionese rum

The local rum is known as Rum Charrette because of its label on which appears a cart loaded with sugar cane pulled by an ox. It is sold in glass bottles and also in plastic bottles called pile plates (literally, “dead batteries”).

Reunionese rum dates back to the 17th century, when it was a by-product of the sugar industry. Over the decades, it has become the aperitif of choice and a delicious way to soak up Reunion’s culture and history. Reunionese rum can of course be tasted pure (be careful, Rhum Charrette is 49% alcohol), in punch or in a cocktail, but the local specialty of the island is Arranged rum, infused rum, for which there are as many recipes as there are inhabitants!

Rum cocktail with cinnamon and star anise
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12. Arranged Rum

Rhum Arrangé is a white rum infused and spiced with aromatics. What are the exact ingredients? There is no “rum rule” when it comes to a recipe, and that is part of its charm. Arranged Rum can be infused with macerated fruits, spices (e.g. cinnamon or vanilla), herbs, faham (a variety of wild orchid), etc., in an endless multitude of combinations. Island families pass their signature concoction down through the generations, and if you’re treated to a glass of Rhum Arrangé from a local, you’ll rarely taste the same blend twice.

Everyone has their favorite, but if you’re a true rum connoisseur, you should try them all for yourself and see! I tried the citrus, vanilla, coffee, orchid, and ginger infusions, but after many samples I decided my favorite was lychee and highly recommend it!

Besides local restaurants and shops, the best place to learn about rum is one of Reunion’s three distilleries. If you are short on time, go to Isatier Distillery. It is the oldest family-owned distillery on the island (founded in 1845) and houses the only rum museum on the island.

The best of Reunionese rum? Not only do restaurants and distilleries sell their own concoctions, but you can also get creative and create your own! Here’s how to make the island’s signature drink yourself:

How to make your own rum

  • Buy a bottle of white rum, preferably Reunionese rum.
  • Gather an assortment of ingredients to “spice up” your drink. You can use vanilla pods, cinnamon sticks, coffee, pineapple, ginger, or even chili. To show creativity!
  • Add pieces of sugar and do not hesitate. The sugar will help diffuse the taste of the other ingredients, so now is not the time to be conservative.
  • Once your masterpiece is finished, close the bottle and wait. 3 to 6 months. Yes, you read that right. Create your signature blend of Arranged rum takes time and patience, but it will be worth it, I promise.
  • Open the bottle, filter and pour the rum over ice cubes. Sit back and enjoy.

I hope you enjoyed our epicurean outlook on Reunion Island, and I hope you made you want to visit one day.

A favorite pastime of travelers is tasting local food and wine at destination:

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