If your idea of a great holiday is centered around the tastes and flavours of a new destination, then Reunion Island is for you. It is the perfect mix of food we know and love and deliciously foreign fare served in an exotic island setting.
Think Indian, Chinese and Malagasy influences, fused with a French flair and a Creole twist to get an idea of the tastes of the island.
Wander around the villages and stop at a local bakery for coffee and croissants or enjoy fine French dining at the luxury hotels in the bigger towns. Sample the street food, explore the markets and have an authentic farm to table breakfast and lunch experience with a charming local in the hills above St. Pierre. Read about it here. https://theroaminggiraffe.co.za/a-taste-of-reunion/
The “Island with an Appetite”
The Reunionese culture is so taste centered they even have festivals for food.
December: The Litchi festival in St Denis
June: The Strawberry Guava Festival at La Plaine des Palmistes
July: The Choca Festival at Entre-Deux
August: The Coconut Festival in St Paul
November: The Lentil Festival in Cilaos and the Turmeric festival in in St Joseph.
The staple of Reunion is Cari. It’s a potjie, but not. It is rice based, slow cooked and generally includes onion, garlic, thyme, tomatoes, salt, pepper, turmeric and ginger. It can be mixed with vegetables like jackfruit, christophine, potato and palm heart. This tasty versatile base can be tailored to all budgets and served with lentils, broad, black or red beans, spicy sausage, fish, chicken or duck. The spicy sauces or rougail include tomato, aubergine, green mango, lemon, and peanut. If that does not have your mouth watering, nothing will.
Us South Africans know our beans and have no shortage of artisanal roasteries and specialist coffee shops. We are very comfortable ordering a triple shot espresso of single origin or something more complex. Coffee aficionados will be keen to embrace the coffee culture on Reunion Island.
Bourbon Pointu Coffee only exists in Reunion and is rated as one of the finest coffees in the world. Derived from the Arabica cultivar, the beans are hand-picked, wet processed and sun dried before being roasted. It has a unique fruity taste and is very low in caffeine so you can drink loads of it without getting the shakes. Served black and preferably without sugar, it will impress your palate. Definitely pack some coffee in your bag before you depart.
Sweet and juicy.
Tropical fruits abound, some familiar, some not so much. For something exotic try the Goyaviers, also known as the strawberry guava, or longan fruit, jackfruit, guananbaba, pitaya cactus or tangors.
For the less adventurous there are 50 varieties of mango, sweet Victoria pineapples, litchis, peaches bananas, guavas and passion fruit.
Sweet potatoes are generally a veggie for us here in South Africa, but the sweet potato cakes on Reunion are next level delicious and you will not want to eat sweet potato as a vegetable ever again.
Parts of Reunion look just like KZN with sugar cane swaying in the island breeze. You can even tour a sugar cane farm on an ox wagon and drink the juice from sugar cane that has just been cut. just like your ancestors might have done. Messy but unbeatable.
Familiar and foreign. Much of the street food tastes like home, with samosas and Chinese dumplings being very popular. In the restaurants fish like sea bream, sword fish and tuna are readily available and super fresh.Vanilla adds exotic flavours to food on the island and Chilli lovers will want to try the ultra-hot “piment-zoiseau”.
It’s not a bredie, it a Brede which is an edible leaf or stem fried with ginger, garlic onion and Chilli peppers. It’s good.
Teatime, island style.
We love our Rooibos and the Reunionese adore their White tea. It is a grown 1200 meters above sea level at Grand Coude, an area high above St Joseph. The tea plantation at the “Enchan-tea’d Labyrinth involves a walk through maze like tunnels of trees to the plantations. The white tea is hand picked in the early morning and is consumed plain, or flavored with cinnamon, lemongrass or rose geranium
Rum, this spicy aperitif is guaranteed to get any party started.
If you love Captain Morgan, you will be crushing hard on the local “rhum”. Visit the Saga du Rhum, La Réunion’s only rum museum, and the oldest family distillery of the island, founded in 1845.
Rhum arrange is a mix of plants and macerated fruit in alcohol. Whenever this is on the menu, order it.
Beer is part of our lifestyle, nothing like a frosty on a hot South African day. The Reunionese understand the role of beer, heat and chilling out. The local Dodo beer is tasty and it’s legal to drink it while wandering around on the streets.
Cheese and wine high up in the mountains in Cilaos.
The House of Turmeric at Plaine-des-Grègues.
The “Jardin d’Eden” (The Garden of Eden) to explore the plants and spices like pink peppercorns, ylang ylang, jasmine and that pink geranium that grows wild in our gardens, they use it on Reunion to make perfume. The perfume is world famous and the geranium plants, originally from South Africa, are still grown in the highlands on the west of the island. Visit a local farmer and get a demonstration of the rustic but effective craft distillers who produce the essential oils.
Think of all the buzz words you can come up with to describe the food and craft markets in Cape Town or Braamfontein. Then re-imagine them without urban hipsters, and plenty of artisanal, organic, fresh and seasonal produce, authentic crafts not made in a Chinese factory and shopping alongside local housewives. Most markets close at around mid-day so go early.
Crafts and local markets worth checking out.
St Denis daily except Sundays, St Benoit Saturday mornings, St Pierre, daily covered market and Saturday street market, St Louis daily, St Leeu Saturday, St Gilles Les Bains Wednesday mornings and St Paul on Friday and Saturday.
Reunion Island is a four hour flight from Johannesburg with Air Austral.
It is Visa free for South Africans and as Reunion is a Department of France, it is the easiest way to get to “Europe” from South Africa.
Thanks to Reunion Tourism for hosting me and Air Austral for flying me to this tasty island.