La Réunion : A Foodie’s Perspective

I’ve had this topic for a long time on my mind and wasn’t sure on how to go about it, how much to say or not to say to avoid going off topic, but hey will just go with the flow.    

DISCLAIMER: these are just my opinions and what I have learnt from being here.    

Food! One of the many reasons we exist. Some say "we eat to live" while others say "we live to eat" but whatever the case, a wise man, a few centuries back, once said the discovery of a new recipe will do more good for the human happiness than the discovery of a new star. And i guess this is because where there’s a social gathering there’s always food. So then how do the réunionnais people throw down in the kitchen?    

To start off I’ll talk about the where, the whom, the sourcing for ingredients, general style of cooking and some of the meals to the best of my knowledge.  

Reunion Island or La Reunion, is a little French island of the coast of East Africa, very close to Mauritius. Interestingly enough they barely know much about Africa, except for South Africa (and some our Kalenjin runners). Originally, it wasn’t inhabited by human life as far as we know, but lots of Lizards(still here) and the now extinct dodo bird. The French discovered it around the 1600s and at the time were using it as a prison (fact check this on the inter-web) and thus today its main spoken language is French. However, due to slavery, the era of spice trade and all that, the French are not the only people who exist here. In fact their flag, with its 5 yellow rays is a representation of the 5 different groups of people. In general, they are all called Creole. However, we have; the Kaf (Black creoles), the Malbars (Indian creole), the Sinwa (Chinese creoles), the Yab (White creoles) and the Zarab (Arabic creoles). However, in today's blended world, sometimes it’s impossible to tell who is who and that just adds to the beauty of human interactions.

So now that we know a little bit more about the place and the people let’s get down to the food. Having quite a variety of people you will find a lot of French, Indian, Chinese, Japanese restaurants. Some of my "culture shocks upon arriving here included:
-The tiny samosas (in Kenya they are bigger!) filled with cheese, fish, chicken (doesn’t taste anywhere close to Java’s chicken samosa) and other fillings.
-The different types of maize flour, one being as fine as wheat called maïs ti san (cannot make ugali but can make cakes) and the other being so course with big particles called sosso maïs (still cannot make ugali). I had to find a ratio to mix the two and come up with something decent enough to call ugali.... the taste is off too but hey, it works.
-The pizzas. Nothing like what you might find at Domino’s or Pizza hut. I like the extra cheese, not a fun of the non-existent crust and hardly any pizza sauce. However, a few places do offer a thick crust. A much wider selection of flavors but apart from Vapiano and Pizza Cosy in St Denis and Pizza Di Nero’s in Tampon. I am not too impressed. But hey! There’s so much I’m yet to try. Oh and most pizzerias only open in the evening from 5pm.
-The Original french taco. I have to throw some shade on French people for this. When you think of tacos, you think mexican tortilla wrap filled with meat, probably beans, some chili and a guac on the side. Well, the first time I ordered a taco it came in a huge wrap filled with fries, chunks of chicken, a sauce and some cheese folded into a bulky rectangle and slightly grilled. I was greatly disappointed. So be sure to probably ask if it’s a normal taco first. But some places do make a damn good French taco. Like O’Tacos.
-Restaurants* aren’t opened all day long just 12-2 pm and 5/6pm-10pm. If you want a breakfast you might have to buy a pastry and coffee from a bakery. If you’re looking to brunch in the sense of late breakfast, early lunch and not in a hotel or a pricy restaurant, you may probably have to get a panini or an American (a sandwich filled with fries... I’m beginning to see why the Americans call fries French fries and probably what the French think of Americans...  hehe) in the tiny snack bars around. I do love paninis though. Particularly at some spot in a place called Barachois.

So local Creole dishes...
There is so much you can get from super tasty dishes to some too strong tastes e.g tangue which is kinda like a hedgehog’s cousin, but all in all the food is great.  

A friend once said to me;
"I don’t know if you’ve already eaten local dishes but basically everything is made of garlic, onions, thyme, then you choose if you add tomatoes, turmeric, wine, etc
I really like civet canard I looked for its translation recently and they call it a stew but I don’t totally agree, it’s actually fried duck meat (with onion garlic and thyme) some wine, cloves and tomatoes"

And this is where I got the basics of local dishes. Here they tend to favor "dry fry" and food is generally served with rice, some grains e.g beans and then your civet or rougail or rôti etc. I have had quite a few dishes and to sum it up, I tend to like the meals made of birds (chicken, guinea fowls, ducks), rabbits and beef. A lot of the others have really been a hit or miss because of the really strong flavors e.g the rougail andouille and the boucané.

Let's not forget the snacks. The snacks are soo good. I love the tiny cheese samosas and the bouchons among other things. And for the sweet stuff, there’s a sweet potato cake that my my! I could eat everyday especially with tea. And if you can handle sickenly sweet, well then, bonbon miel is the snack to try. They are like tiny donuts filled with honey.

At the beginning, I thought I wouldn’t have much to say but now that I look back, I’ve actually had a decent share of the local culinary experience to turn this article into a sort of culinary-cultural novel (and I have barely scratched the surface). Keeping in mind, I couldn’t write about every single dish I’ve had. Reunion Island really is a foodie’s paradise. I will save the sourcing of ingredients and the markets for another day as those just need to be a topic on their own. 

So how do the locals here throw down? With a lot of interesting appetizers, scrumptious dishes that you can, by the way, choose to eat without your cutlery, sweet desserts, booze, coffee, good music and everyone, the men and the women, all do some heavy lifting in the kitchen. 
The mood; Mi casa es tu casa.

*It's worth noting that covid has affected the restaurant culture to some extent.

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  1. Nov 30, -0001 12:00 am
    Anita Mumenya