A mixture of France, India and Africa, Creol cuisine is the result of this melting pot but also a result of the history. Creole cuisine is simple and family orientated but although it may be simple this doesn't mean it is bland by any means, because quite the opposite, it is very tasty and spicy.
Creole cuisine takes its character from the history of the French West Indies. The original mix of inhabitants contributes a lot to this character.
From Africa comes the culture of « root » consumption. Yams, maderes and potatoes were all imported and cultivated in the French West Indies to feed slaves. The same applies to the manioc flower, still used today.
The consumption of peas generally comes from Africa. In the countryside, women pick peas and keep them to put them in dishes like Congo Soup. To make good Congo Soup, three different varieties of pea are needed : (soap pea, boucoussou pea and angol pea). This dish, synomym of nostalgia, is inherited from the Blacks of Congo. It was eaten around Christmas, when the representatives from broken families got together for circumstance and brought with them peas that were mixed into the soup.
The Indians brought curry with them, an essential ingredient for the preparation of Colombo, a dish of tamoule origin. With the exception of some local spices, Creole cuisine also owes the use of spices in general to them.
From the Arawaks and the Caribean, the use of Roucou has remained, a red grain used in sauces, notably because of its colouring purposes.
Finally, Creole Cuisine inherited from France a good number of basic ingredients, from a difficult time where food was scarce. In effect, before, the majority of food consumed in the Antilles came from France via boats. Flower, rice, smoked lard and breast, dry vegetables, fish, were up to very recently, essential ingredients to Cuisine from the Antilles. It is not surprising that in a majority of creole dishes, there is lard and cod.
From this period was born the art of economy and dosage. But it is becoming lost. Sometimes, a dish is so invaded by cloves that one could think he was at the dentist's. In the same way, the famous cocoa sorbets, sold on the beach, often taste more like almonds than cocoa. Today, almond oil is affordable and accessible in any supermarket so the dosage of this ingredient no longer obeys to the law of rarety and is poured on to the point of making the taste of cocoa.
Creole cuisine is also the art of assembly of small nothings and the recycling of leftovers. Nothing is lost ! A handful of rice and a handful of red beans go perfectly with any dish, which is why these two ingredients are often found in Creole dishes. Meet offals are also important ingredients in most creole dishes. Tripes are the base of Matété or Matatou. Pig's feet and tails are particularly appreciated. The dead animal's blood is used to make "blood sausages".
A Creole meal is always started by a small punch. Prepared with fresh fruits, there are as many varieties as there are types of fuits. More or less sweet, The softness of the punch must not make people forget that it is made with 50° rhum and that the sugar added makes the alcohol level rise. Do not drink too much !
Punch is often served with small apetizers such as mini bousins, or paté on rolls. Some, like fritas (with cod and shrimp) have become as famous as the punch that goes with them.
After this, the dishes arrive: dombrés and ouassous (pancake with flour accompanied by local crayfish, called « z’habitants » ), calalou (with a marame leaf or madere base), matété and Matoutou (with crab soaked in lemon)," ragoûts de chatroux" (small squid) or lambis (local crustacian), bébélé (fruit for bread, banana, giromon and tripes), stuffed crab, Macadam (rice and cod), chiquetaille (grilled cod and ripped into scraps) or féroce (avocado, cod and manioc flower).
Without forgetting the famous colombo (meat dishes, with curry) or pâté (soup with vegetables and offals). Some dishes are only eaten at certain times of the year like Christmas ham, caramelized with honey, pierced by cloves and dried in the oven.
In addition to Cod, fresh fish is also very present in creole cuisine. With exceptionnal flavour in the Antilles, small fish in masses or a slice of thasar, it is short boiled (blaff) or grilled.
Other than smoked lard and breast, meat has always been rare and expensive. Chicken is well liked by the inhabitants who eat it "boucané", meaning smoked using burned sugar cane. Excellent ! Cabri is also eaten more since the arrival of the Indians who eat it a lot. Finally, calf and porc are not forgoten and it is currant in the countryside to have some for personal consumption and to gain a bit of extra money each month. Often, the animal is killed in the garden, a small event that the family normally assist, and where the desired pieces are reserved.
Many pieces of fruit and vegetables accompany these dishes. Tubers, of course, but also bread fruit, fruit from bread trees imported from Polynesia which was cheaper for feeding the slaves. It can be eaten green or ripe, peeled or boiled like a potato. The banana is also common on the tables in The West Indies. Whether vegatable or fruit, many different types exist. The papaya and cristophine are frequently used.
Peppers are omnipresent in Creole cuisine, it accompanies all dishes. Particularly strong, if not the strongest in the world Creole peppers are used to clean and flavour food. Also used for cooking, you must make sure they have been removed before serving. On the table it is presented on a saucer. You stick your fork in it and then move it around the plate to flavour it. You should be careful with peppers as too much will make the food unedible !
Finally, for food lovers, exotic fruit are on the menu for dessert : in sirop, candies, jams or compotes. Without forgetting doucellettes,philibots, lotchios, cratchés, the famous blanc-manger coco (coconut flavoured with vanilla), the classic banana flambée with rum or the tourment d’amour (Savoie cake with coconut creme).
This simple and tasty cuisine can be found right down to workers' food who often eat cod and onion or sardine butter sandwiches.
The West Indies don't produce wine but drink a lot of it. Beer is mainly imported except the Lorraine beer of excellent quality brewed. But the main surprise is the abundance of exotic fruit juices which will delight amateurs !
This Creole cuisine which is so varied and tasty is alas on its way to extinction. Demanding, it requires a lot of patience and work. For example, the soaking of the cod is an essential stage in the preparation. If you forget to do it, the cod will be unedible.
The peeling of the breadfruit, the scarification and the threshing of the lambi and chatroux are extremely tiring tasks which require a lot of strength and grip. Finally, it is impossible to find fruitbread in restaurants and the lambi and chatroux are often more rubbery than an old tyre.
Lastly, some ingredients are disappearing or don't have the necessary quality which created the true flavour of Creole dishes : no more ouassous or z’habitants, but farmed crayfish and lambi and lobsters are frozen. To sample a good lobster you need to choose one from a fishtank.
The best way to sample nice Creole dishes is to get an invite to an inhabitant's table. But even then, globalization has gained a lot of ground. Regarded as cooking for the poor or blacks and from a terrible past, Creole cooking has been more and more rejected by wealthy levels of the population, supplanted by traditional food and food from metropolitan France. The flying succes of fast-food in the West Indies foresees a bad future for Creole cooking. Not very well passed on and rejected by the young generation which is opening up to the cuisines of the world this culinary tradition is threatened if nothing is done to heighten the West Indian awareness in preserving this essential heritage.