A lot of you have asked me, where did it all start? Where do I get my inspiration? How did I get the cooking bug? Plus with my frizzy hairdo, I don’t come across as the typical French woman! So you’ll have to travel very, very, far…..
The story starts in the middle of the Indian Ocean, 200 km away south west of Mauritius, on the lovely island of Réunion where I was born. Although first discovered by the Portuguese, Réunion is now part of France like Martinique and Guadeloupe. Historically, the island was on the East Indies and slave trade route, and its population today is in fact a melting pot of nationalities, Chinese, Indian, African, Creole, French, that happily live together. The food has been enriched and influenced by all these different cultures, Réunion creole cuisine is a fusion of all these different food, it’s like travelling around the world in one plate, yet managing to create a style of its own!
The Island traditional and most popular dish is the “cari de poulet”, you can already predict the origins of the dish. Although extremely similar to an Indian curry, the cari, that can be made with chicken, pork, beef or fish, uses three key and simple ingredients, turmeric, black pepper, thyme, onion and garlic. It is served with plain rice, beans and a spicy side salsa called “rougail”.
The rougail always contains chillies, but can be made with tomatoes, lemons, green mangoes and other local vegetables.
Fusion food is the best way to describe Réunion cuisine. For example, like the French, we like a good apéritif, but ours will be served with spicy nibbles, the most popular one is “bouchons” it is basically our version of the Chinese dumpling, but ours is traditionally spiced with “combava” kaffir lime and filled with either pork, chicken or prawns. We also serve samosas and “bonbons piments (spicy fritters)”, following the Indian influence.
A good apéritif will always come with a good “rum arangé”. As many tropical islands, Réunion grows sugar cane, and produces its own rum, the most popular brand is “le Rhum Charette”. The “réunionnais” people flavour their rum, depending on the season, the Rhum Charette will contain mango, lychee, pineapple, vanilla or even local herbs, it is this flavoured rum that we call “arangé”.
Dessert is not as formal as in France, there are so many varieties of tropical fruits on the island, they are very fragrant and this is what people will have at the end of their meal. Mango, lychee, pineapple, goyaviers, bananas and many more…
Saying that, we do like a bit of cake, again, nothing as involved as French Patisserie, more baked cakes, we use coconut “bonbons coco”, manioc and other root vegetables “gateau patate”, we flavour the cakes of course with our vanilla and rum.
Now that you know what Reunion cuisine is about, you might like to try it. You can come to my "Sunshine in Midwinter" feast 30th November, Haslingfield, Cambridge, http://www.gourmandises.co.uk/sunshine-in-midwinter/
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