International Thursday: Seychelles

  • Seychellois red snapper and eggplant fish curry
  • Coconut and curry leaf rice
  • Mango and vanilla bean panna cotta

South Africa was a big hit around here. Shifting his gaze a little more eastward, and out onto the Indian Ocean, my little guy picked the Seychelles for our next adventure. And while the the archipelago country of 115 islands—azure waters and coconut fronds considered—should have been a culinary escape, it was a concerted effort to make the experience exotic.

That’s because, Seychellois cuisine has all the hallmarks of East African Indian cuisine. Influenced in great part by the dhow sailors of centuries past from all over the Indian Ocean, the country’s flavors exhibit an array flavors from Africa, India, and the Far East, and France.

Yet, the Indian influence, as in Kenya, is pared down to the basics, and lacks heavy-handed masala so characteristic of other island nations populated by the Indian diaspora. Lentils, fish, rice, and chicken are instead sautéed in the aromatics—onions, garlic, ginger, and chilies. Some recipes call for curry powder—but I’m pretty certain that Seychellois concoction has its own character (how different countries mix their own curry powders deserves its own post). Desserts, too, are simple, often showcasing a single, standout scent or flavor.

The choice wasn’t easy, but we settled for a simple fish curry—marinated firm-fleshed fish steeped briefly in a coconut-tomato curry simmered with curry leaves, and with fried eggplant as an added texture component. In a departure from the Kenyan version, (or the one that I’m familiar with at least), it uses curry powder rather than whole spices (cumin, specifically) and dhana-jiru (coriander and cumin powder) that seems to be a mainstay in Indian-tinged East African dishes. It relies, instead on the fresh, bold flavors of lime and cilantro in the finish. Utterly island-appropriate.

Seychelles-Fishcurry

To step up the island experience, while trying to sidestep the flambeed banana–type dish, our sweet finish was just as centered around a few key ingredients:  Mango and vanilla bean panna cotta. It may not have been authentic, but it was inspired by something memorable I ate a very long time in Zanzibar—the place I think of every time I smell a vanilla pod.

Seychelles-Mangopannacotta

Creamy, and cold, and custardy, with just the right acidity from the mango, this was certainly, in every single way, a keeper.

And what did my little guy learn?

1. That Seychelles is one of the smallest, but most fervent of all African countries about environmental protection. Nearly 50% of its land area is under natural conservation.

2. Pirates seem to target Seychelles more so than other countries, and that’s probably why Seychelles has the world’s highest incarceration rate.

3. We have to go to Seychelles.

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