With its extraordinary natural resources, Reunion Island is a fruit paradise, an Eden of spices and fine products. Its cosmopolitan cuisine is also inspired by the diversity of the cultures that populate this island-universe.
A gastronomical hotch-potch
As its name suggests, Reunion Island is a melting pot of cultures and cuisines. The richness and diversity of its flavours are immense, blending French, Indian, Chinese, Madagascan and East African traditions. Creole recipes enhance exotic products, which are the produce of an extraordinary land: fertile volcanic soils at different altitudes, abundant rains and a mild climate. Europe has brought it charcuterie, gratins and the flavours from stewed meats. Africa has contributed the consumption of roots, dried pulses and hot peppers. Asia and India their plethora of spices. Turmeric, for example, also called "poor man's saffron" or "Indian saffron", has remarkable antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties: it is widely used in curry but not in rougail. These two dishes are emblematic of Reunion cuisine. Curry, which is available on all menus, is comprised of meat (chicken, for example) or zourites (baby octopus) prepared with tomatoes, onions and ginger, etc. It is served with white rice and dried vegetables (lentils or peas) called grains, and then a spicy sauce or rougail, a term which also represents the other essential element of Reunion Island, which is prepared at a high heat. You can often taste the famous rougail saucisse (sausage rougail) in restaurants or when staying with local hosts.
As for desserts, Reunion creole recipes offer cakes made from sweet potato, cassava, banana or guava. Sugar cane is an essential ingredient of these desserts, as well as Bourbon vanilla. The first vanilla orchids, which came from Mexico, were introduced in 1819. However, no one knew how this orchid with its complex flower was fertilised. It was in Reunion, in 1841, that a 12 year-old slave, Edmond Albius, perfected the quasi-magical technique that is still used today. Thanks to him, Reunion became the world's first producer of cultivated vanilla. It is an expensive product because its cultivation is largely manual and requires exceptional know-how. A skilled planter can fertilise between 1,000 and 1,500 flowers in a morning. It also takes a lot of patience to be able to transform the green vanilla pod into a black, delicately perfumed vanilla pod, after having dried and prepared it. Another more exceptional production: coffee. It made a comeback in 2003 and the coffee plants produce a rare and delicate product, Bourbon sharp, which is mildly caffeinated. Very popular in Japan, it is among the best in the world... and the most expensive !
As regards vetiver, a lot of research as been done on this plant by the luxury goods industry in perfume making. The variety that grows on Reunion Island is valued because its essential oil, which is obtained after distillation of the root, is very subtle. Its woody fragrances can be found in premium eaux de toilette. Rose geranium from Reunion also enjoys an excellent reputation among the major cosmetics brands, thanks to its strong, sweet scent, which is slightly mentholated, and which is similar to rose.
But in terms of distillation, aromatic plants are not the only ones this island has to offer! Rum is the traditional drink. Made from sugar cane, it is often served infused with fruits and spices which have been steeped for several months in bottles or bowls, giving a very distinctive flavour. Vanilla, lychee, passion fruit, kaffir lime... The choice is endless: the island provides an abundance of wonderful tropical products all year round, such as pineapples, one of the first fruits to be introduced to the Mascarenes archipelago, which is part of Reunion Island. The Victoria variety is one of the best in the world: small in stature and with a very sweet flavour, this pineapple is a jewel of Reunion agriculture. Moreover, it obtained the Label Rouge in 2006. It graces the stalls in numerous markets, nestled alongside mangoes, papayas or even chouchou (chayote). The aptly named vegetable - chouchou meaning 'favourite' - is very popular among the locals and is best prepared in a gratin or in curries. A veritable riot of colours and flavours !