To use a tasty French-Creole saying, dining on wondrous Creole cuisine in the Seychelles will surely help “let the good times roll.” Although, you’ll get more smiles and raised beers, as I did on my visit there, if you say it the way the local people do, “Laisser le bon rouleau de temps!”
Of course, this is because the local patois, like the exciting and varied food of this many-island nation, is primarily French. But, it’s far from a simple influence, and the results are an exciting blend of cultures. There are hints of Southeast Asian, Indian, Chinese and Italian blended together in the local food, culture and languages of these lively islands, and it’s best understood through dining, not speaking.
And, what a lesson you’ll get “Sechiose” cuisine sings with subtleties of French cuisine, sweet and spicy Indian flavours and that extra kick you get in many Asian foods. Crushed chilies, ginger and garlic enhance the dishes, as do local fruits such as golden apple, papaya and aubergine. This melding yields stunningly flavourful curries (often made with coconut milk), tangy sweet chatinis (salsas), and with the ocean never far away, every kind of seafood imaginable. Rice, of course, comes with everything; it’s a staple.
Having cooked more than my share of Creole food at “The French Quarter” restaurant in Chicago’s Palmer House Hotel (long ago), I thought I knew all there was to know about Creole cuisine, but I was in for some surprises on the Seychelles.
In any context, “Creole” is a mix, combining several cultures, true of any food and people. Seychelles’ colourful past and present culture reflect this. The cluster of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean just off East Africa and Madagascar was governed by France and Great Britain in fairly recent times. However, the Seychellois also carry customs and tastes from Maldivian and Arab traders, as well as African, Malagasy and various other European cultures, including Portuguese.
Most of the activity on Seychelles, from home to restaurant and hotel life, is on Mahe´, Praslin and La Digue, the Inner Islands that form the hub of culture and tourism of this nation. Coconut trees dot all islands, including the majority of uninhabited ones, so coconut informs many local dishes, as does the aforementioned seafood.
For a memorable Creole cioppino, full of fresh fish, shrimp, mussels, crab and a zippy tomato broth, I recommend Mahe´ Restaurant. I went to the lovely Seal Beach location, though there’s one at Dana Point, as well. Their amazing “Queen,” a Cajun tuna sushi, features seared albacore wrapped in soy paper and accompanied by a stunning garlic ponzu, all made superb with a Mahe-tini that included fresh pineapple. The restaurant has primarily an Asian-International menu, but includes fine Creole elements. It’s not the cheapest on the island, but quality reigns.
To leap up the Creole ladder a few notches, take a group to the gorgeous and mouth-watering evening buffet at The Boat House. Their 20 sumptuous entrees include papaya satini, several different fish and chicken curries, sublime barbecued fish and accompanying breadfruit chips. After a while, I joked that I’d become addicted to breadfruit chips washed down with Seybrew, which is not hard to do. The local beer, resembling some light Bavarian brews, kept me enjoying the comfortable, relaxed atmosphere. The prices are very comfortable, too.
The island of Praslin’s lovely beaches tempt at every turn and you’ll definitely be tempted to try Cafe Organibar, where we had a festive meal, trying to polish off the dishes as fast as they came out. Succulent fish fillet baked in banana leaves topped the favourites list here. It was followed by that most romantic of evening treats, grilled prawns with garlic butter. My double thumbs-up went to the luscious braised chicken with honey, nicely tangy as well as sweet. Hit the Creole buffet on Thursday night for the widest local selection.
On another taste adventure, my friends and I had a mixed reaction at Bonbon Plume, though the setting just off the beach couldn’t be more enticing. The vegetable soup was fresh, but not stunning in flavour. A tad pricy, but exquisite, was the red snapper, cooked Creole style to order. But for me the experience was saved by the fresh lobster off the grill was tremendous, served with a mix of Creole-infused veggies, seemingly teased with tamarind. We followed that with the refreshing coconut nougat.
On the final evening, we decided to try the islands’ famed Indian cuisine and opted for ambiance and reasonably priced food at PK’s restaurant. It could be me, but everything seemed to taste that much better after a swim on lovely Anse Lazio beach, not too far away. It sure was great to sample PK’s seafood delights, made all the more tasty by Mr. PK’s lively personality and chatty ebullience. I’ve never had a better Creole vegetable curry and I tried to pry out the recipes for the local chutneys and pickled sides, only to get a bemused smile.
For the price, PK’s will likely be one of your favourite places, but wherever you dine you’ll find Seychelles Creole rolls with the best!
Having tasted the full gamut of dishes on our trip, we decided there are certain uniquely flavourful Sechiose cuisine dishes in various places that must be tried:
Chatinis: pureed or grated sides served alongside most dishes using pumpkin, tomatoes, aubergines, carrots, green mangoes, coconut, green payaya and more.
Pulao: a rice cooked gently with fish, meat or vegetables
Seychelles Chicken: prepared with mandarin oranges, tamarind and almonds
Grilled Tuna: a no-frills special that does exactly what it says on the barbecue
Caris Masala: a curried pastiche of coriander, cumin fenugreek, cloves, saffron and mustard seeds
Caris de Coco: coconut curries with your choice of key ingredients (fresh seafood is always a winner)
Daube de banana: dessert of plantains stewed in coconut milk.