Réunion is a culinary delight: thanks to a mix of influences and prime fresh ingredients (plentiful seafood, succulent meat, spices, aromatic plants, and fruit and vegetables bursting with flavour), you're certain to eat well wherever you go. There's a balanced melange of French cuisine (locally known as cuisine métro) and Creole specialities and flavours, not to mention Indian and Chinese influences.
Réunion has a fine range of eating options, and it's not necessary to book except on weekends. Dinners served at B&Bs should be booked the day before.
Restaurants The mainstay of Réunionnais dining and you're never far from one.
Tables d'hôte Home-cooked meals served at B&Bs.
Cafes Very popular in St-Denis and St-Pierre.
Takeaway outlets Serve cheap Creole staples.
Markets The best places to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables.
Staples & Specialties
It's impossible to visit Réunion without coming across carri (curry), which features on practically every single menu. The sauce comprises tomatoes, onions, garlic, ginger, thyme and saffron (or turmeric) and accompanies various kinds of meat, such as chicken (carri poulet), pork (carri porc) and duck (carri canard). Seafood carris, such as tuna (carri thon), swordfish (carri espadon), lobster (carri langouste) and freshwater prawn (carri camarons) are also excellent. Octopus curry, one of the best you'll eat, is called civet zourite in Creole. Local vegetables can also be prepared carri-style – try carri baba figue (banana-flower carri) and carri ti jaque (jackfruit carri) – but they incorporate fish or meat. Carris are invariably served with rice, grains (lentils or haricot beans), brèdes (local spinach) and rougail, a spicy chutney that mixes tomato, garlic, ginger and chillies; other preparations of rougail may include a mixture of green mango and citrus. Rougail saucisse (sausages cooked in tomato sauce), served with rice and vegetables, is a Creole favourite. A common Tamil stew is cabri massalé (goat carri).
Seafood lovers will be delighted to hear that the warm waters of the Indian Ocean provide an ample net of produce: lobster, prawns, légine (toothfish), swordfish, marlin, tuna and shark, among others. Freshwater prawns, usually served in carri, are highly prized.
Snacks include samosas, beignets (fritters) and bonbons piments (chilli fritters).
Desserts are equally exciting, with tropical fruit pies and jams, exotic sorbets and ice creams. If you like carb-laden cakes, you'll be happy. Each family has its own recipe for gâteaux maison (homemade cakes), which come in various guises. They are usually made from vanilla, banana, sweet potato, maize, carrot, guava… One favourite is macatia (a variety of bun), which can also be served at breakfast. You'll also find plenty of patisseries selling croissants and pastries. Baguettes can be bought from every street corner.
Breakfast is decidedly French: pain-beurre-confiture (baguette, butter and jam) served with coffee, tea or hot chocolate is the most common offering. Added treats may include croissants, pain au chocolat (chocolate-filled pastry), brioches and honey.
Fruits reign supreme in Réunion. Two iconic Réunionnais fruits are litchis (lychees) and ananas Victoria (pineapple of the Victoria variety). Local mangoes, passionfruit and papaya are also fabulously sweet. The local vanilla is said to be one of the most flavoursome in the world.
Dare to Try
If you're a gastronomic adventurer, start your culinary odyssey with salade de palmiste, a delectable salad made from the bud of the palmiste palm tree, known as the 'heart of palm'. The palm dies once the bud is removed, earning this wasteful salad delicacy the title 'millionaire's salad'. For something a bit more unusual, try carri bichiques (curry made with a sprat-like delicacy), which is dubbed le caviar réunionnais (Réunionnais caviar). You might need to seek out larves de guêpes (wasps' larvae), another local delicacy that is available from April to October. Fried and salted, they reputedly increase sexual stamina.
You may also want to learn the terms for carri pat' cochons (pig's trotter carri) and carri anguilles (eel carri) so you don't accidentally order them in a restaurant. Réunionnais also drool over carri tang (tenrec curry, a small Malagasy hedgehog-like creature), which you're not likely to find served in restaurants.
Vegetarians & Vegans
Vegetarians won't go hungry. Réunionnais love vegetables, eating them in salads or in gratins (a baked dish). You'll certainly come across chouchou (choko; a speciality in the Cirque de Salazie), lentils (a speciality in the Cirque de Cilaos), bois de songe (a local vegetable that looks like a leek) and vacoa (screw-pine fronds), not to mention bringelles (aubergines) and baba figue (banana flower). Salads, rice and fruits are ubiquitous. In Chinese restaurants, menus feature vegetarian dishes, such as chop suey and noodles. Most supermarkets have vegetarian fare, too, and chambre d'hôte owners will be happy to cook vegetarian dishes if you let them know well in advance.