the sound of the waves

Arriving at Réunion’s Roland Garros International Airport is a bit like arriving in Nice: you descend over the sea, you only see the runway appearing beneath you moments before touchdown, as a European you only need an ID card to pass border control, flight connections displayed in the terminal are mainly Air France to Marseille and Paris, posters advertise helicopter transfers and there is a steep mountain backdrop – although here it is an active volcano instead of the Alps. All in all: the same jovial atmosphere than at the slightly provincial (no offence) South of France airport.

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The island’s capital St. Denis is sometimes referred to as the Paris of the Indian Ocean (although nowadays there seems to be a Paris everywhere: Beirut and Budapest are both commonly known as the Paris of the East; Buenos Aires is often called the Paris of the South; in the 19th century the Norwegian town of Tromsø was known as the Paris of the North and while Detroit was considered the Paris of the West and Hanoi the Paris of the Far East, my favorite of all is probably Irkutsk, the much acclaimed Paris of Siberia. But all this is a different story…).

In the taxi to the Grand Hotel du Lagon we pass patisseries, epiceries, boulangeries and pharmacies with flashing green neon signs, accompanied by sad chansons of Edith Piaf coming from the cab’s croaking radio. If my driver had told me we’re in the South of France I would have believed him, however, we’re in the middle of the Indian Ocean, more than 8600 kilometers away from Nice.

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Suddenly he points out a Kentucky Fried Chicken, but I cannot make out whether his gesture is with admiration or contempt. Personally, I am much more interested in the local cuisine. In 2001, while living in Guadeloupe, another of the five French overseas departments, I first encountered the rafinesses of the Creole cuisine. So instead of Kentucky Fried Chicken I headed straight to Clapotis, the hotel’s wooden decked beachside restaurant. Lulled by the gentle song of filao trees and the sea breezes, chef Henry prepares a variety of the island’s traditional cari dishes in his open kitchen. Guests can pick and choose whichever tickles their taste buds the most. My recommendation is his phenomenal spicy sausage rougail, Réunion’s much-acclaimed specialty.

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He shared the recipe with me and while the dish is not too difficult to recreate, it’s the atmosphere at Clapotis (which translates roughly as ‘the sound of the waves’) which is impossible to copy – particularly as every meal ends with one of over 25 varieties of locally blended spiced rum

Recipe for Rougail Saucisse for 6 people

1 kg smoked sausages
3-4 dry onions
6-8 small potatoes
5-6 big chilis
sunflower oil
salt & pepper

Blanch the sausages for a few minutes and drain afterwards
Cut the sausages in pieces
Mince tomatoes, onions & chilies
Slightly brown onions and crushed garlic in hot oil
Add sausages and stir
After 5 minutes add cut tomatoes and seasoning
Let it simmer, then add seasoning

Best served with (Basmati) rice

Bon appétit!

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Nota bene: the Grand Hotel du Lagon was rebranded in December 2011 and is now known as LUX* Ile de La Réunion. Subsequently, Clapotis was also renamed. The recipe, however, will hopefully still be used.

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