In the early evening, the air in the Seychelles is filled with the fragrant smell of garlic and spices cooking. Dining here takes in flavours from many influences – French, Indian and Chinese – and combines with bountiful local produce to create enticing Creole cuisine. Tuck in and enjoy the riches of the sea, fresh fruits plucked from the trees and the heat of tropical spices.
Whether on a self-catering holiday or full-board package, it’s well worth exploring the diverse range of eating establishments to discover the best of Seychelles cuisine. This choice ranges from casual beach-side restaurants with benches and a sandy floor, to elegant air-conditioned formal establishments. There are some very good Creole restaurants, offering a more authentic dining experience than most of the hotels.
The Seychellois don’t keep Mediterranean hours for meals as they do in many hot countries. They usually have breakfast early, take lunch between noon and 2pm, and eat dinner early; a habit left over from the days when you needed to prepare your food before it went dark and there was no electricity.
Breakfast is much as you may have at home, perhaps with more exotic and enticing fruits on offer, such as pawpaw, guava and mango. A Seychellois lunch is fairly typical of the modern-day diet and tends to be a sandwich or takeaway from one of the cheap local vendors that opens at this time, selling noodles, rice and sauces.
The evening meal is the big event of the day. In fact, many restaurants away from the beaches only open in the evenings. Some restaurants will be open and busy by 6.30pm, but the usual opening time is 7pm and many restaurants will be closed by 10pm or 10.30pm. Restaurants in hotels may start and finish a little later.
Fish and seafood
It comes as no surprise that the Seychelles’ speciality is fish. Surrounded by thousands of miles of ocean, the Seychellois have always had access to the very freshest and most flavoursome fish and they make the most of it in a variety of ways, from simple, meaty barbecued tuna steaks to hot fish curries. Although the cooking style is generally referred to as ‘Creole’, the Seychelles cuisine is unique, differing from that of nearby Mauritius, and benefits from the influence of the French, Chinese, Indians and even the British who introduced fish and chips – though the fish is of course usually the more exotic parrotfish (kakatwa), not cod.
Most of the better restaurants take a more sophisticated and subtle slant on their use of fish and the Seychelles has to be one of the best places in the world to try raw fish (usually sailfish or swordfish) dressed with lime or smoked sailfish as a starter.
Another unusual dish you may come across is shark chutney or satini, shark meat grated and cooked with turmeric and bilimbi, a sour fruit similar to a tiny cucumber. Bourzwa, sometimes spelled the French way, bourgeois, is red snapper. This is a white fleshed fish, especially prized for grilling whole over hot coals, stuffed with garlic, tomatoes, onions and chillies, regularly basted with fresh lime juice. Whole fish such as mackerel are often served this way. If you are squeamish, be warned that a grilled fish (pwason grille) will usually be served unfilleted, with head and tail on.
Seafood features on most menus; enjoy wonderful local prawns and crab as well as two local shellfish species: the palourde (a small clam), often served in garlic butter and the tektek (a smaller clam), usually made into a soup which will probably come with the shells in it.
If you are not a fish and seafood lover, there is no need to worry. There will always be meat dishes on the menu in the Seychelles. Chicken, beef, mutton, pork and occasionally goat feature widely, as does the spicy local sausage which is traditionally cooked with lentils in a stew. The quality of imported beef is generally good, though the local pork, especially that used in curries, can be rather fatty.
Takeaways offer more robust, everyday dishes, and the quality of the meat may be slightly lower, but naturally you get what you pay for. Staples in these include a variety of stews and curries. Note that at the cheaper venues, chicken is usually cubed but not cut off the bone and tends to consist of the least meaty parts, making a chicken curry a bit of a challenge to eat.
There is something unique about a Seychelles curry which makes it slightly different to better-known Indian versions. Local curries are decidedly hot, though in restaurants frequented by tourists they will be much milder. With local chillies, the smaller they are the bigger the punch they pack. A small dish of minced chillies in oil or vinegar is often served with a meal and should be approached with caution – a little goes a long way!
One speciality curry well worth trying is the kari koko, made with coconut milk. Octopus is often prepared in this way, and it also works well with chicken. They have a knack for preparing octopus here so that it almost melts in the mouth. Curries, like most dishes, are served with plain white rice, salad and chutneys. These refreshing side dishes consist of raw, grated green pawpaw, mango, golden apple or carrot with finely chopped onion, dressed with lime juice and pepper, and they make ideal accompaniments to a fiery curry.
Local specialities include aubergine fritters, thin slices of aubergine deep fried in light batter, the peppery local watercress, a variety of breds (any sort of green leafy vegetable such as Chinese cabbage, or bred mouroum, the leaves of the locally grown horseradish tree), besides the more conventional carrots or potatoes.
Be sure to eat breadfruit before you leave. Tradition has it that if you do, you’re sure to return to the Seychelles. It’s delicious cooked the traditional way; slowly baked in a fire pit and served simply with butter and salt as you would a baked potato, but locally it’s also used to make chips and crisps.
The living shoot of one of the endemic palms used to be served as palmiste or ‘Millionaire’s Salad’ (to obtain it, the whole tree had to be cut down), but as these plants are now protected, the soft inner core of the common coconut palm is used as a most acceptable substitute. It’s usually prepared with a light lime juice dressing as a starter or in cheese sauce for a more substantial dish.
Vegetarian and vegan dishes
Despite the obvious lure of seafood out here, the Seychelles actually ranks highly as a vegetarian-friendly country, especially if you are eating at local restaurants, where veggie curries can easily be found.
It’s also straightforward locating pizzas, where you should have your choice of toppings. If you’re staying at a hotel or resort with buffet options, there will be plenty to go for that’s meat-free. Vegans may want to check ingredients with the kitchen, but most places will be able to meet your requirements, even if options are reduced.
Check out Rasta Café Seychelles in Beau Vallon, Mahé, which is a dedicated vegan café and smoothie bar.
Unless you’re a great fruit lover, there is no need to save much room for dessert, which will usually be a choice between ice cream, sorbet or fruit salad. However, tropical fruits such as jamalac, guava, mango and passionfruit will feature and are served with delicious coconut milk instead of cream. Sometimes fruit salad is even served with nougat or caramelised coconut. Ice creams and sorbets are locally made and are very good. More unusual flavours on offer include coconut and lemongrass.
An authentic local dessert is the daube, a stodgy pudding consisting of banana or breadfruit simmered in coconut milk, but you do not often see this on menus.
Fish and seafood
To wash your curry down, you could drink one of the excellent local lager beers (Seybrew and Eku), or a Guinness, also brewed under licence in the Seychelles. There are various fruit juices available, most delicious when freshly squeezed. Visitors are often surprised by how delicious and refreshing a glass of fresh lime can be, subtly flavoured with salt and sugar, and you’ll probably be offered a kokotann (green coconut) with the top removed at some point, so that you can drink the coconut water within.
Wine and all alcoholic drinks are imported and come with a large mark-up in all hotels and restaurants. The truly local brews are not widely available – you can sometimes find them in local markets – but they are kalou (palm toddy), baka (fermented sugar-cane juice – not rum!), and lapire, a fiery brew basically made of anything that will ferment when sugar is added. These are all heady brews and should be sampled in mindful moderation.
Local filter coffee is usually good, while the local tea, which is organically grown in the mountains, is pleasant and delicate, if not particularly strong. Other blends of tea are not widely available although you will find vanilla tea, which is made from locally grown tea that has been subtly flavoured with vanilla pods.
An excellent alternative way to round off your meal is with a cup of sitronel (from the French citronelle) or lemongrass tea, which is refreshing and allegedly aids digestion.