The Seychelles islands are known for a number of things. Right at the top of most peoples’ list would be the beaches, what with their turquoise warm waters, brilliant white sands, palm trees and, well, you’ve got the idea.
Another thing most visitors to these islands fall in love with is the food. And there’s good reason for that. From freshly caught fish, to locally grown fruit, from spicy curries to sweet fried bananas, there is something here for every taste bud and palate.
I am lucky enough to be part Seychellois, and have spent a significant part of my life on these wonderful islands. My granny makes some pretty spectacular traditional Creole dishes. Here, in no particular order, are some dishes you should try out when you hit the islands.
Fresh grilled fish
The Seychelles is home to a countless number of tropical fish species, which local fisherman will sell to you, either from the market in Victoria, or by the side of the road fresh from the boat. Listen out for the sound of a conch shell being blown – the traditional sign that fish has just been brought ashore for sale.
One of the most popular ways to prepare a fish is over the hot coals of a BBQ, often fired by coconut husks to give a wonderful aroma and flavour to the fish. Usually preparation of the fish is minimal – just some slits down the side into which garlic, ginger and chilli is stuffed – and then grilled to perfection. Barracuda in particular are excellent done in this style.
Salted fish Rougay
Salted fish, or Pwason Sale, as the locals call it, is less common today than it used to be, but it is still available if you know where to look. Again, the lack of refrigeration until well into the late 20th century meant that food preservation was a challenge, so to keep produce edible all sorts of preservation techniques were used, including pickling and salting.
Salted fish is pretty much what you would imagine it to be – fish is liberally covered in salt and then left to dry in the sun. When you want to cook it, you soak it for a while, drain some of the salt out, then use it as you would any other ingredient.
I’m not going to lie to you – this is what could be described as an acquired taste. The taste is both incredibly fishy and incredibly salty at the same time. If you’re into anchovies, you will probably be in heaven. If you hate anchovies.. well.. perhaps go for the curry.
There are a variety of ways that salt fish can be served, but the absolute classic has to be the Rougay. This is basically just a tomato and onion base with plenty of garlic, ginger and chilli, fried up, then served with rice. If you want to try out the Rougay but aren’t into the fishy flavours of Pwason Sale, then a great alternative features coarse ground local sausage.
When my Mum moved out to the Seychelles way back in the seventies, she started out her culinary adventures by asking my Dad how they cooked things. She relates that she soon gave up asking the question because the default answer was invariably curry.
And curry really is a dish that your average Seychellois adores. This could be something to do with the history of the islands – electricity arrived late – so spices were used as a preservative. Whatever the reason, curry, often based around masala spices, hot chillies and lots of freshly made coconut cream, is a staple.
The ingredients vary, back in the day bat and goat were key ingredients, although you may struggle to find those today. Instead, chicken and fish curries are likely to be on your plate. Enjoy, but do watch out, because the Seychellois do like their curries hot!
Anything with banana in
The Seychelles, at last count, is home to at least 23 different banana species. From tiny little sweet bananas, to giant plantains that need to be cooked, there is a banana size for everyone. And once you’ve tried a recently plucked banana you will wonder how you ever coped with the supermarket variety back home.
Bananas are used as a key ingredient in a number of dishes, most notably, desserts. Bananas fried with sugar and butter are a favourite of mine, resulting in a giant, sticky, toffee like mess. Bananas baked with coconut milk and sugar are another classic, the so called Banann ladob. You’ll also find them flambeed with rum or brandy, fried as chips, and of course, just served as they come. Delicious in every way!
Finally, on my list of foods to try out in the Seychelles, is the breadfruit. Breadfruit is a remarkably versatile food ingredient, basically imagine it as a giant potato in terms of cooking flexibility. So you can boil it, bake it, mash it and fry it. It can even be cooked in coconut milk and sugar as a dessert option.
By far the best way to eat breadfruit is to just put it whole (they are fairly large), with the tough skin on, into the embers of your fire, surrounded by coconut husks, leave it for around 45 minutes, and when the skin is charred, crack it open to reveal the steaming creamy white flesh within.
Traditionally, you would then lather it with pork lard and salt and chow on down, but these days people find butter to be a more than acceptable substitute. And don’t forget the Creole saying – if you’ve eaten breadfruit in Seychelles, you are guaranteed to come back to the islands!
Laurence Norah is the author of Finding the Universe, a website dedicated to sharing travelling experiences, musings on life and photography. Laurence is a passionate traveller, photographer and writer whose journeys thus far have taken him across five continents. Laurence is currently on the road with no fixed abode, his travels can be followed at his Facebook page and Twitter