What better way to achieve a closer grasp of the Reunionese identity than to immerse oneself, with all the senses engaged, into one of the islands many markets? And because the majority of conversations here take place in Creole, this is a great opportunity to slip in a few words in here and there, which are sure to crop up as you go about making your purchases...
Oté zoreil, allon bat' carré !
Each town has its market
Listen to the heartbeat of the island, breathe in the enticing odours marvel at the surprising sight of unknown fruits and vegetables, amid the exchanges between the merchants and "granmounes" (old ladies) who have come with their "soubiques" (Madagascan baskets) to buy whatever is required to prepare a good cari (typical Creole dish)... the markets are the only place where such an experience can be found. And Reunion has no shortage: there is a market every day, in every town!
Let's start with the Saint Denis large covered market (open every day except Sundays): also referred to as the Madagascan market, as the handmade products found there come mainly from the 'Large Island'. Low prices, but not truly "péi" (local). In contrast, the ti' covered market (every day) is a concentrate of Reunionese life: spices, flowers, fruits, vegetables, poultry, "boucané" (smoked meat) and handicrafts - pots, baskets, pestles for preparing "rougail", the condiment that accompanies cari - you can find everything! Do not hesitate to ask for advice in choosing the right products, as the Reunionese will take pleasure in helping the "zorey" (visitor from the Continent) who is taken aback by the wealth of choice! You should also be sure not to miss the market fair in the working-class district of Chaudron in Sainte-Clotilde.
You may then choose to visit the markets at Sainte-Suzanne or Sainte-Marie: shaded and friendly, they are ideal if you just want to spend time mingling. The Saint-Paul open-air market, which takes place on the seafront on Fridays and Saturdays, is without doubt the most frequently visited by tourists: you have to get there early or you may have to walk a little if you don't manage to get parked nearby. You should also plan for the usual precautions against the sun. Here too you will find fruits, vegetables, spices, geranium-based products direct from the producers (something you must bring back with you, the little vial of essential oil that will, upon returning home, transform into Proust's madeleine - just as effective as a travel photo!), vanilla pods... It is best to eat while you are there, whether in the restaurants with their many fish recipes or at the 'snacks' (snack bars): "bonbons piments" (little salted doughnuts), "bouchons" (meat-based appetisers wrapped in pastry), "achards" (marinated vegetables) to accompany a "Dodo" (the local beer, to be consumed in moderation). Located on the ocean front every Sunday morning, the Hermitage market in Saint-Gilles Les Bains: ideal before a day on the beach !
Fancy some peace and quiet ?
There is no need for a hat in Saint-Pierre: the market is covered. It is also one of the prides of the town, labelled the Town of Art and history since 2000: the main metallic structure of what was then named the 'bazar' dates back to 1863. Here, in addition to the local produce, you will find handicrafts, much of which comes from Madagascar. Finally, if you end up in Cilaos on a Sunday morning, you simply must "bat' carré" (take a stroll) to the little market: charming and friendly, it is surrounded by the majestic ramparts of the cirque. There you will find, for example, honey, soaps, local wine, jars of preserve... And as is the case everywhere you go, there are stalls at which you will find different types of cari, served in small containers with a generous helping of rice and "grains" (peas, lentils), "brèdes" (leafy vegetables cooked in a manner similar to spinach), spicy sauce: to be consumed in moderation, unless the Reunionese spirit, having escaped from the markets, has taken hold of you !