Reunion cuisine, the 'joining together' of flavoursScroll
The local Reunionese cuisine is a magnificent example of what it is that characterises the island: a harmonious marriage of diverse cultures and influences. Europe, Africa, India, China... in the cari, the typical meal produced in the "péi" (local) kitchen, all of these inspirations combine to bring out the best of flavours.
"Mett' massalé, kaloupilé, gros piment, combava, pou donn' le goût, fé lèv l'oder mon cari !" These few words taken from a song by the Reunionese group, Baster, provide a foretaste of the local cuisine: European inspirations for the stewed meats, generous spoonfuls of spices to honour the Indian roots, actual roots and herbs recalling Africa, steamed dumplings, multiple ways to serve pork and the sweet-and-sour flavours arriving from China... Just like the Reunionese or the Creole language, the "péi" (local) cuisine is an example of great diversity, variety and harmony. The island's iconic dish is without doubt the famous cari, which wonderfully combines these influences.
The cari? In a pot (an essential piece of equipment!), a tasty mixture of tomatoes, onions, turmeric - "safran péi" (local saffron) is a root stock from India, specially adapted in Reunion and not to be confused with the bland powders sold in Europe under this name - ginger... which coats the meat or fish. A cari worthy of this name is always served with rice, "grains" (French beans, lima beans, lentils...), des "brèdes" (herbs cooked as in mainland France, with spinach, for example) and - even if the purists reserve it for dishes without sauce such as grilled meats - an accompaniment, rougail: prepared in a pestle, with a base of raw tomato or finely cut slices of mango, for example, combined with the essential ginger and chillies, which are no less essential. To be consumed in an appropriate quantity, depending on the delicacy of your palate...
Cari is made with beef, chicken and fish, but also with sausages (in which case it takes on the name "rougail saucisses") or prawns: in this case it is called "sauce crevette" (prawn sauce), although the principle remains the same! In good restaurants, this popular Creole dish has been enhanced by the chefs, who give it a touch of sophistication. However, in the small restaurants or even in the shelters that welcome walkers in the cirques in the evening, cooked according to the wood fire tradition, the cari is still a delicacy! Also worth trying for meat lovers: porc boucané (pork smoked over a wood fire) and sarcives, the local alternative to ribs.
With regard to vegetables, Reunion Island is not to be outdone: The chouchou [chayote], the flavour of which is reminiscent of courgette, can be cooked as a fritter, puréed, gratinéed; the bringelle (aubergine) is used as an ingredient in some caris; and what can one say about breadfruit, which is made into chips? Other vegetables, carefully cut, julienne style, can be transformed into "achards" (a spicy vegetable relish) which is also served as an accompaniment to cari, after having been blanched and then marinated in a sauce with a touch of vinegar, salt, oil, ginger, chilli and turmeric. From the classic carrot-green bean-cabbage combination, to palm cabbage, "ti jaque" (jackfruit), mangoes, lemons... achards are as varied as they are refreshing.
Among the local specialities, some that are difficult to resist when the time for a snack arrives are the bouchon (appetisers of meat wrapped in pastry, as per the Chinese tradition), samosas of all kinds that originate from India, bonbons piments (small salted and spiced doughnuts) that are eaten alongside a beer or mulled rum: purchased from vendors in mobile snack bars, known as "snacks"; these little sweets are one of the small pleasures of Creole life. Finally, when it comes to sweets, there will always be a little room for a galette de manioc [a cassava pancake], a sweet potato cake... or a fruit salad: watch out though, it is possible that there may be a little added chilli. Forewarned is forearmed !