Friday 12 February 2016

A Tropical Side of France: Reunion Island

If you've been following me for a while on Instagram or Facebook you probably noticed I was away back in October. I first spent a weekend in Paris and then flew to Reunion Island.

Reunion Island is a French island in the Indian Ocean, a little piece of France about 10,000km away from Paris and 200km from Mauritius. Every time I told an Irish person I was going there they had no clue where it was and never heard of it. 

I was there because my dad was born in Reunion Island. He left when he was 18 to do an apprenticeship and because he was eager to see what was going on in mainland France. About three years later he met my mam and they built a life so he never went back to live. 

In 1997, I was 14 and remember going to Reunion with my mum and dad and even though I was a teenager who didn’t care much about anything, that trip really stayed in my memory. Meeting my family as well as seeing where my dad was from was quite something.

Last year was even better since I went back to Reunion Island with my parents but we also brought an Irish man with us, you guessed it: Mr. FFID himself!

You don’t have too much choice in terms of airlines to go to Reunion, only direct flights from Paris with Air France or Corsair. Depending when you go it costs about €900 from Dublin and it takes around 11 hours. It's a popular holiday destination with French people and when I was there I didn’t hear many people speaking anything other than French. 

Reunion Island is tiny, about 2500km²  and you can drive around the island and see plenty of it in a day. It looks a bit like Thailand, Malaysia, sometimes like Australia but it’s very French. The language is French, they have bakeries, french post offices and everything like in France. The population though is a melting pot. Over its history Reunion island got seen an influx of migrants from Africa, Asia, India and Europe. 

It terms of food it is the same story, the food has been influenced by Asia, Europe, India and Africa which results in the most colourful and tasty (I’m biased) food ever. 

What really struck me was the presence of fruits, vegetables and spices everywhere. There was a tiny pineapple (ananas  Victoria) growing in our garden, my uncles have papaya trees in their gardens, there is an avocado tree (YES) in my grandparents’ garden… 

Plus people are very educated and know all the seasonality and what you can make with all the food given by mother nature. Unfortunately it wasn’t lychee season yet but the avocados were tasty, creamy, sweet and enormous (1kg in my uncle’s garden).

If you ever go to Reunion Island, feel free to drop me an email and I can give you lots of tips. I stayed for two weeks and had a blast but here are my highlights and recommendations:

  • Food Market in St Paul (visit on a Friday): a must-see, so colourful and vibrant this market is by the sea and full of goodies. You can also get some street food such as samosas, which are one of the specialities in Reunion Island.

  • La Fournaise volcano: one of the most active volcanoes in the world, I missed the eruption by two days but it’s so worth going to see. ‘La Plain des Sables’ which you cross before getting to the volcano looks like some kind of a lunar landscape.

  • Paragliding in St Leu: paragliding is very popular in Reunion island so Mr. FFID and I had a little go. Take the shortest flight if it’s your first time. I opted for a long one and I got scared half way. I’ve done bungee jumping and skydiving but paragliding scared the hell out of me, I’m glad I did it though.

  • ‘Le Jardin des parfums et des epices’ in St Philippe: One of my favourite experiences, a brilliant guided tour of a garden filled with tropical and fruit trees. I saw a cacao pod, fresh nutmeg and so many other things that come in a tin back home.

  • Piton Maido: a beautiful place where you can trek and see the most amazing mountains

  • Hell-Bourg: a typical creole village

  • Salazie: a village surrounded by lush vegetation, waterfalls and mountains

  • La Vanilleraie Ste Suzanne: a brilliant visit of a vanilla plantation, you can learn a lot about this beautiful orchid that Reunion Island is so proud to produce.

  • Kelonia in St Leu: a great aquarium where you can see lots of different turtles and learn about their history.

  • St Gilles-les-Hauts: it’s a touristy seaside town, go to ‘Chez Loulou’ bakery to get some treats.

On the food side don’t leave Reunion Island without having tried the following:

  • samosas: like the Indian samosas but with plenty of different fillings (beef, fish, cheese, pineapple…..)

  • bouchons: my favourite little dumplings in the world, a bit like Chinese dim sums (my recipe here)

  • Carry poulet: a chicken curry, traditional dish from Reunion Island.
  • Rougail saucisses: a tasty smoked sausage curry
  • Rum: Reunion island is a massive rum producer, try the most famous one which is called ‘Rhum Charrette’

  • Achards: it’s like a spicy slaw of vegetables, you eat it as a side dish

  • ALL the tropical fruits: they will differ depending on the season but the pineapples, lychees and avocados in Reunion will change your life forever and you wouldn’t want to eat them back home anymore. 

There is much more and I’m sure my auntie Arlette would be happy to cook a Reunion feast for you if you ever go there!