Le Bistrot Clandestin: The food of Reunion Island, saveurs indiennes
Last Saturday, I hosted my third Bistrot. The focus this time, was on the amazing heritage the first Hindus of the Pondichery region left on Reunion Island food and its culture. 16 guests, locals of the Cambridge area and some as far as Surrey and Yorkshire, gathered around my table for this very special culinary experience.
The Bistrot so far, has been focusing on my culinary background with the cuisine of Reunion Island, where I was born. The island is not very well known here in the UK, nor is its food. Nestled in the middle of the Indian Ocean, near Mauritius, Reunion island food is a melting pot of Chinese, African, Indian, French and creole.
A little bit of history:
On Saturday, my guests were treated to yet another beautiful meal with a focus on the Indian influence “saveurs indiennes”. The Hindus of Reunion arrived on the island in the 17th century. They came as slaves. The Governor at the time, was particularly interested in their carpentry and building skills. After the abolition of slavery, they stayed on the island and built very prolific businesses. Today they are just an integral part of who we are as Reunionnais. We don’t think of them as people from India nor do they. But, the influence they left on our food is immense. Saturday was a celebration of this.
Every meal in Reunion, like in France starts with a little nibble, “apéritif”. Typically, it is a glass of “rhum arrangé” (Rhum flavoured with local fruits) and savoury nibbles. Guests were welcomed with a glass of rhum flavoured with coconut water and grape fruit. They also enjoyed a “samoussa cari poulet” . The samossa was filled with the traditional reunionnais chicken cari, pieces of chicken slowly cooked in turmeric.
For Starter, I served a street food favourite “achards de légumes”. If you go to Reunion these would be served in baguettes in street food vans or as a side dish. This one is definitely packed with Indian flavours. A mix of fresh vegetables, green beans, white cabbage and carrots, cooked with turmeric and ginger. It was served on a shortcrust pastry base called croustade.
Le plat de résistance:
As main, I wanted my guests to experience a traditional Reunionnais curry, and surprise them with how different it would taste, “looks like a curry but doesn’t taste like what I know at all” kind of thing. I did exactly that with my “agneau massalé” , a slow cooked lamb in massala spices (but not the massala served here, a very special creole blend), served with rice, beans and a tomatoe rougail. In Reunion, this dish is actually made with goat, but I didn’t know how adventurous my guests would be, so kept it safe. When I told them, they all asked to have it served at my next Bistrot.
The star of the show:
Dessert was not quite what you’d see in Reunion, but the flavours were: an entremet with a mango and chocolate mousse on a coconut biscuits, served with a fresh mango coulis.
Go on, say it, that was a meal and a half! But oh! no, of course it didn’t finish there. Each time, I like to finish the meal with either coffee or tea and a little treat. This time to keep-up with the Indian theme, there were cardamon and mint truffles.
I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and I can say my guests did too.
If you’d like to attend the next supper club, just email me firstname.lastname@example.org and I will add you to my mailing list.
You can find more information about Reunion Island food here.