Culture - Arts | Travel - Leisure
Seychelles cuisine; imperfect paradise
Everything is based on the freshest of ingredients, directly from the garden, the abundantly colourful market in Victoria or nature herself. A few of the more than ten chilli types found at the Victoria market are also seen in Maria's kitchen. The pimente kabrí, from her mother's garden, would be perfect for the upcoming octopus curry in coconut meal, Maria discloses.
Cooking the traditional Seychellois way is time-consuming, revealing that housewives in earlier days had long working days, needed to use what nature and their gardens gave them and had little to help them with. It is a cuisine born out of French immigrant's traditions, the archipelago's isolation making it dependent on local produce and out of poverty.
Only the making of coconut milk, which barely flavours dishes, is hard work and time consuming, with a special device to scrape out the coco mass from the nut; the watering of this mass and its final hand squeezing and massaging to produce the "milk".
"Freshly made coconut milk is simply much tastier than the canned you buy in the shop," Maria holds, adding that you will not find any young people preparing their meals in such an elaborate way today. Indeed, Seychellois youth were too much into French fries and other junk food, forgetting traditional cooking, she complains.
But when the ground work of preparing ingredients is done - including the coc
Maria heats up the oven and pours oil in the hot pan. Chopped onion, garlic and eggplant are fried some five minutes. Then, the pre-cooked octopus is added, together with large quantities of Seychellois masala - which includes entire cinnamon leaves - and false saffron (turmeric) powder. As this mix seems to get burned at the bottom of the pan, the coco milk is softly added. The dish is seasoned with salt and coarsely chopped chilli before it is left to cook another 10-15 minutes under constant stirring.
You can find the detailed recipe for Maria's traditional octopus curry here.
Besides the octopus, a typical Creole chutney is appropriate, providing for a lighter and fresher taste to go with the heavy octopus curry.
Maria quickly makes an indigenous papaya chutney, using papayas that are still hard. The papayas are grated and an onion cut into fine slices, to be given a 30 minutes water bath to soften. She adds fresh lemon before the "salad" is put into a hot pan or wok with oil for a few minutes, under further addition of lemon juice. The chutney now only needs getting cold and some freshly chopped chilli before being served.
Traditionally, boiled breadfruit is served along with the octopus curry. Breadfruit could easily be exchanged with potatoes, if you want to copy the dish.
Maria reveals that, as with many other traditional dishes, breadfruit is no longer "in" among Seychellois youth. Typically, locals
"Fusion" is a modern name for something old. Indeed, the traditional Seychellois cuisine is already a fusion between ancient French cooking techniques, tropical ingredients and strong influences from India and mainland Africa.
And this "traditional fusion" served by Maria is a delight - maybe not for the eye but for the mouth and stomach. It is a cascade of open and hidden flavours and could best be described in the way quality wines are described. And as is common with traditional cuisine, there is always more in the pot and it is difficult to stop eating before you get too stuffed.
Fast food the Seychellois way
While Maria complains about the degenerated cooking habits of Seychellois youngsters, one will be surprised to find that traditional cooking has found its way into local fast food.
Indeed, dishes similar to Maria's octopus curry are found in a modern wrapping out in the streets in Seychelles, for example as an octopus kebab or stews. On Mahé's popular Beau Vallon beach, for example, mostly elderly women bring their home cooked curry - of varying quality - to the market, served in heated pita breads along other traditional dishes such as grilled fish. Here, chilli is optional, having in mind tourist palates.
In ordinary Seychellois restaurants, elaborate traditional dishes such as the octopus curry are difficult to find, and even at Maria's Rock Café you would need to order it the day before.
Fish, fish and more fish
As with tropical spices and vegetables, Seychelles is blessed with an unlimited access to fresh fish and seafood. The lively Victoria market especially on Saturdays gives a glimpse of the large variety of fish available; from the cheap and everyday-dish bonito, via tuna, barracuda and shark to the more exclusive grouper, red snapper and sailfish, typically served as a Sunday dish but now mostly reserved for the tourism industry.
Fish is not only grilled. A pleasant surprise is the use of locally smoked fish in many salads or even paninis. In traditional cooking, the salad may be spicy. In modern cooking, as represented in many hotel restaurants, spices have been exchanged with imported ingredients and presentation is king. Both ways are delicious.
Most visitors to Seychelles see little to traditional cooking but nevertheless get a taste for modern Creole cuisine through so-called "fusion" now being so popular in most kitchens designed for tourists.
Ulric Denis is a good representative for this new Seychellois kitchen. He takes great pride in being a Seychellois, in his small nation's rich traditions and in the many local, fresh ingredients in Seychelles. His mother taught him the basics of Seychellois cooking.
But Mr Denis, who has worked his way up to become chef de cuisine
In his modern, tidy and streamlined kitchen at Le Meridien, Mr Denis shows his qualities as a wizard, conjuring a delicious fusion meal in a matter of minutes. OK, Mr Denis uses bottled coconut milk and has his pre-packed fish delivered twice a week, always available in the fridge. But efficiency is needed to serve hundreds of guests freshly made meals only minutes after they order.
Mr Denis cuts the red snapper fillets - one of the most delicious fishes you find in Seychelles - into small cubes. He chops fresh herbs - basil and mint - and onion. Garlic and fresh turmeric are quested into a mass. A medium hot pan with much oil is host to the fish cubes for less than a minute. Then, the oil is temporarily removed from the pan to fry the ginger-garlic mass together with the herbs and masala powder. Coconut milk is added before the oil and then the fish is put back in again.
Cook on low heat for some five minutes. And voilá - the red snapper curry is done! You can find the detailed recipe here.
The whole process takes less than ten minutes. The curry fusion is served with rice - breadfruit is not available - and chilli is optionally added in small quantities at the last moment. "Chilli is the last ingredient that you add, or it will become bitter," Mr Denis emphasises. Also, "too much chilli, as is common in Seychelles, disguises
What seemed so simple immediately reveals itself as a delicate dish with one layer of flavours after the other appearing as the taste matures in the mouth. "Yes, it looks easy," Mr Denis smiles, "but you need to be perfecting the balance of flavours," he reveals. Nevertheless, the dish is easy to copy, to cook and to personalise.
The "fusion" cuisine is widespread in Seychelles, with Mr Denis being a good representative able to make an international version with a truly Seychellois base, resulting in an exciting experience. No doubt, Mr Denis's deep roots in Seychelles and his mother's kitchen assure a result that is still very much Seychellois.
Most of the many French chefs on the archipelago are not that successful in their attempts of making a "fusion".
Indeed, at the most exclusive resorts, what is served as "fusion" is often international cuisine - of course delightful and wonderfully presented - with only a tiny touch of Seychelles, if at all. Even ingredients are often flown in from abroad, despite the fact that Seychelles indeed is a paradise when it comes to fresh and tasteful quality ingredients.
"Paradise" is the word most often used by the Seychellois to describe their archipelago, and of course they proudly hold their kitchen to be paradise's own cuisine. Their argument is strong, with the abundance of fresh tropical ingredients to be harvested everywhere and "the best of three continents" mixed into a unique Creole flavour.
Even at Maria's, her Italian husband makes sure to tell every visitor they live in paradise. In Maria's kitchen, abundant quantiti
"The garlic," I ask, "is it also home-grown?" I had noted the wide use of this favourite spice in Seychellois cooking.
"No, it is imported," Maria answers. Finally, I am also able to brag, noting that I grow large quantities of garlic in my garden, noting a small surprised envy in her face. "Hah," I think, "finally I have proven that Seychelles cannot be paradise. Paradise without garlic - impossible!"
Facts for Seychelles visitors
The Victoria market is held every morning in the capital's centre, close to the bus station. It is especially lively on Saturday mornings, especially between 9:00 and noon, when locals from all Mahé island flock together to buy fresh products, meet old friends and gossip. The market on Saturdays has also developed into Victoria's greatest tourist attraction and is a perfect place to learn about local products, buy quality food and visit artisan shops and local cafes and restaurants. Visitors will be surprised by the over 20 types of mangos, around 26 types of bananas, more then ten types of chilli, varieties of local fish, and so on, also providing fantastic photo opportunities.
Maria's Rock Café is located a ten minute's walk from the Anse Gouvernement beach, Baie Lazare, south on Mahé island. The exotic restaurant provides a very personalised service, mainly serving fresh prawns, meat, fish and chicken for self-frying on hot lava stones. Creole sauces, rice and salads are included in th
The Rock Café also houses the obscure pirate home of Maria's Italian husband Antonio Felice Filippin, a very eccentric artist, which is open to the public and designed to surprise even experienced globetrotters.
The Beau Vallon beach market, which is also called the Bazar Labrin, is held every Wednesday evening, from 16:00 to 22:00, and is a magnificent opportunity to experience local cooking at low prices. Here, octopus curry kebabs are sold at rupee 40, and other dishes, including grilled fish, are even cheaper. If you want a beer along with the food, you need to bring it yourself. The Bazar Labrin also offers genuinely local music and artisan products and can be highly recommended. At the same site, home made fast foods are sold in a smaller scale every afternoon.
Chez Batista is the best choice to experience Creole grilled fish south on Mahé island. As the only lodge and restaurant in idyllic Takamaka Bay, owner Jean Baptist serves fresh fish grilled directly at the beach every day, with the large Sunday buffet being a highlight. Price levels are reasonable, also for the lodge.
Le Meridien is among the most prestigious hotels on Mahé island, with roots back to the 1940s. Located in Bel Ombre in northern Mahé, the French-owned hotel has mostly Seychellois staff. The a la carte restaurant run by executive chef Ulric Denis is pricy, in a delightful, luxurious but somewhat impersonal surrounding and can offer some of the island's best examples of modern cooking with a true Seychellois taste.
By Rainer Chr. Hennig
© afrol News
Current afrol News Top Stories