There’s an old saying in the Seychelles – eat the breadfruit and a return trip to the islands is guaranteed. But after sampling the rest of Creole cuisine, you may not want to leave at all.
For foodies, the fragrant, spice-laden culinary traditions of the Seychelles pose a dilemma. How can you recreate the same fusion of freshly caught fish, marinated in locally grown spices and grilled in the warm salty air? The short answer is: you can’t.
Creole cooking makes good use of the island’s natural bounty. But tropical fruits, exotic spices and the catch of the day are only the beginning of the story.
When the first European settlers arrived in the 18th Century, they found a collection of uninhabited islands blessed with year-round sun, fertile soil and tropical fruits like which they’d never seen.
Over the years, African, Indian and European flavours were added to the cooking pot, with passing ships leaving a trail of spices in their wake. Over the years the cuisine developed into a mishmash of customs and flavours, and it’s in this stirring alchemy that the magic really lies.
Today, food in the Seychelles is more than just substance, it marks many of the most important moments, and has been a way for family and friends to come together for generations.
Every Sunday, the Seychellois gather in groups to enjoy spice-stuffed fish, fragrant curries and other generational-spanning dishes, often gathered around a barbecue on the beach, with tourists more than welcome to join in the feast.
What’s on the menu?
Typical Creole dishes are characterised by lively flavours with a variety of complementing tastes, from fiery chilli chutneys to fragrant curry sauces.
Breadfruit is a staple of the island diet that can be barbequed, boiled, baked or steamed, though it is most frequently eaten as fried chips. With the texture and fragrance of freshly baked bread, the fruit is the culinary backbone of the Seychelles and can be found at every restaurant, food stall and street corner.
Another lauded dish is les roussettes, a lip-searing curry prepared with chunks of skinned fruit bat marinated in vinegar and red wine, cooked with a variety of herbs and spices. The long-standing local delicacy is a must-try for daring foodies, and a unique way to experience the local culture.
Grilled fish is perhaps an obvious choice, but the sheer variety and freshness of the archipelago provide a true ocean-to-plate experience unlike any other. Caught locally and typically grilled, specialities include parrotfish, jackfish, sailfish and red snapper, served with a mouth-watering marinade of lemon juice, garlic, chilli and a hint of ginger.
For seafood fans, satini should be savoured at least once. Unique to the region, the dish is essentially a seafood salad laced with finely grated onions, papaya, apple, chilli and turmeric, finished with a splash of lime.
Don’t leave the islands without trying ladob, a Seychellois dish based on plantains, breadfruit and cassava, which can be served savoury or sweet. A staple of local tables, the sweet version sees the fruit boiled in coconut milk with sugar, vanilla and nutmeg until soft and creamy.
Savoury versions usually include fish, with sugar replaced by salt. Both varieties of the dish can be served hot or cold and are a pure joy when eaten fresh.
Where can I eat authentic Creole cuisine?
Nothing compares to rolling up your sleeves and rustling up something yourself.
There are plenty of Creole cooking classes in the Seychelles and for an insight into everyday island life, booking a full-day tour is essential.
Join an excursion organised by a Seychellois family for the most authentic experience, starting in Victoria’s morning market where you’ll gather spices, coconuts, sweet potatoes and mangos.
From there, it’s onto the fish market to pick out the catch of the day, before heading back to the family home to get busy in the kitchen, before sitting down together to enjoy the fruits of your labour.
If you prefer to let somebody else do the hard work, then a trip to Marie Antoinette in Victoria is an excellent choice for homemade Creole cooking.
The colonial mansion was made famous by explorer Henry Morton Stanley, who stayed here in the 1870s on his return journey from Africa, where he found Dr Livingstone.
Today, the restaurant is an institution in its own right, dishing up traditional favourites such as aubergine fritters, battered parrotfish, fish stew and tuna steak from a menu that has barely changed since the 1970s.
As an introduction to Creole food, you can’t beat it, though chances are your first visit won’t be your last – especially if you eat the breadfruit.