Exceptional stories, exceptional lands. From Reunion Island’s mountainsides to the treetops of Madagascar’s tropical forests, there is a host of culinary delights. We have selected a few of them as we embark on a journey to reveal some of the most sensational.
Bourbon Pointu coffee
The coffee’s story began in the early 18th century when Arabica coffee bushes from Ethiopia were brought to L’Ile Bourbon (as Reunion was then known). The Reunion Island’s climate was so favourable to the plants that they gradually acquired their own identity, Bourbon coffee. Bourbon Pointu coffee is the result of a constant mutation from classic Bourbon coffee.
It owes its name quite simply to its fruit being more pointed and its beans more elongated. At that time, when Reunion Island was one of the main suppliers of coffee to Europe, Bourbon Pointu was prized by no lesser enthusiasts than Louis XV and Honoré de Balzac. Unfortunately, by the beginning of the 20th century, as a result of the vagaries of the climate and disease, production ceased. It wasn’t until the 1990s that production was resumed in the South of the island, led by a Japanese businessman for whom it became a passion. Today it’s back – the Bourbon Pointu’s reputation has been restored. Its subtle aroma, acidulated with floral and fruity notes, is as good as ever – and rated Grand Cru by experts throughout the world.
The forests in the hot and humid Southeast of Madagascar are full of tropical wild plants, such as Voatsiperifery pepper. Considered one of the finest pepper species, the spice is comparatively rare because gathering it is a perilous business – the pepper is gathered by hand at the end of creepers that climb to the tops of trees as much as 100 feet above the ground. Adding its spicy flavour and a touch of intense freshness to dishes, it leaves a woody note and a delicate hint of citrus in the mouth and is much appreciated by fine gourmets.
With its strong aroma and its superior taste, criollo (an old Spanish term for “creole”) is the rarest and most sought-after variety of cocoa. Introduced from Mexico, it is a low-yielding and fragile plant requiring considerable pampering in order to be sure that the resulting chocolate is of top quality. In Madagascar, it is grown in the Northwest of the island in the valley of Sambirano. Its quality has enabled the country to receive the highly prized premium cocoa appellation from the International Cocoa Organisation.
At some forty miles from Antananarivo and 4,265 feet above sea level, Mantasoa’s large lake is reputed for a climate perfectly suited to farming sturgeon. It’s all that it took for three enterprising individuals, Alexandre Guerrie and Delphyne and Christophe Dabezies, to launch themselves into the crazy task of trying to produce the first African caviar, Rova Caviar, and make it one of the best in the world.
They set out on their venture in 2009 but it was eight years before their patience was rewarded and they could at last taste the fruit of their labours. With its nutty taste, their Baeri, which they have named “the black gold of Madagascar”, already has numerous fans. In due course, Rova will produce five ranges, from Baeri to Ossetra and the renowned Beluga caviar to the Persicus and Nudiventris (two species that are extremely rare).
Vanilla – the name alone conjures up dreamy tropical landscapes and incredible adventures. Its delicate aromas make it greatly prized both for cooking and perfume-making, valued even more because of its rarity. Blue vanilla is even rarer, developed from scratch by the Escale Bleue workshop in Reunion and owing its exceptional quality to a lengthy and meticulous process. Grown in Reunion’s forest reserves using traditional know-how that bans the use of fertilisers, pesticides and preservatives, two years are needed for the vanilla to mature before its subtle and unique aroma is achieved. Cooks particularly appreciate it, as the whole pod is edible. Like good wine, people say that its aroma grows over time – and gourmets love it!
By Elena Boulart (original version in French)