It’s Travel Tuesday and the spotlight is once again on Reunion. This time, I’m sharing about cuisine and one of the islands most celebrated national pastimes, le picnic.
HEARTY FARE WITH UN PETIT PEU OF THE EXOTIC
There are too many traditional dishes to mention here but a few stood out for me, like the Cari, a combination of tomatoes, onions and turmeric served vegetarian or with meat and fish. Palm heart salad (salad palmis) became a firm fave, a plate of fresh, crunchy goodness made from the tender shoot at the crown of the coconut palm and often referred to as the ‘millionaire salad’ since the palm heart is considered a delicacy.
The seafood is delish – omg the peri-peri prawns! – and surprisingly for me, I went big on lentils, a Reunion staple that’s grown in the pretty mountain town of Cilaos.
In a nutshell, traditional Reunionese food, prepared simply and presented sans fanfare, is hearty and satisfying.
LE PIQUE NIQUE
Reunionese love a good picnic and I asked our formidable tour guide from Ethnix Tours, Sully Chaffre to tell me why it’s such an important part of island life (merci for your patience with my endless What’s App questions Sully!). “As you know,” he said, “Reunion’s landscapes are outstanding so we like to enjoy the natural places and try take advantage of the outdoors on Sundays, bank holidays and basically whenever we have free time. For us, picnics are a way to meet up with family members and friends, where the children can get out, have fun and run around in vast, open spaces.” Whatever the raison, the good folk of Reunion have this social activity down to a fine art and if you’re on vacay, you must factor a proper pique-nique into your itinerary.
Reunion picnics differ significantly from what I’m used back home in Cape Town, or anywhere else for that matter. Forget the wicker baskets filled with baguettes, cheese, wine, tapas and a rolled up blanket. On the island, locals take the concept up a notch and have transformed it into something bigger and better, a festive full-day affair.
Once on site, cars are offloaded and a bonsai version of the home kitchen materialises, everything from gas cookers, pots and pans to long tables draped in brightly coloured plastic cloths. Most of the food -some new discoveries too, like chayote– is prepared from scratch and it’s a convivial group effort. It’s about family, food, nature and music and a celebration of la vie!
ANIME PIQUE NIQUE
Willem Patrice (above) from Anime Pique Nique is a roaming cook who is adept at procuring authentic Reunionese meals in diverse outdoor locations. Name the place and he’ll sort the spread, and his interactive cooking classes are an excellent way to learn more about local fare and are a chance to expand your recipe repertoire. The day we joined him he had set up for us in the shade of the Casuarina pines above the beach.
He speaks scant English though so when you book your picnic it would be wise to also have a tour guide like Sully with you to bridge the language divide and keep the conversation flowing which of course is crucial in a cooking class situation. Everyone is assigned a task in the meal prep, be it chopping, slicing, peeling or frying. And bonus, Willem may just throw a traditional song into the mix too as you wade through course after delicious course.
“Our picnics aren’t about sandwiches but about traditional meals, about sharing recipes. People love sharing dishes, it makes them happy,” said Sully. “We like to enjoy life- after all, we are French!” Exactement Monsieur Chaffre and I can’t wait until borders re-open so we can all go (back) to Reunion!
Disclaimer: This blog post is one of a series I’ll be uploading as part of a paid partnership between Cape Town Diva and the Reunion Island Tourism Board.(RITB)
Borders are opening across the world so keep an eye on the RITB website for updates! Hopefully not long now!
Accredited tour company in Reunion: the amazing Sully Chaffre of Ethnix Tours
Read more about the island via the RITB blog
For France-SA diplomatic info, please click this link
À bientôt 🦋