Seychelles – another world and Creole discovery

Four Seasons Seychelles

A birthday invitation from a very good friend brought me to this magical islands – Republic of Seychelles. Happened to be coincidental with Praslin Culinary & Arts Fiesta but later postponed due bad weather.

Straight from Chamonix and Geneva trip, off we landed to have a taste of pristine beaches and delicious Creole culinary that Seychelles are known for. So, from Bonjour to Bonzour; and from Mt Blanc to Morne Blanc.

Seychelles archipelago house flora and fauna similar to South East Asia that I’m familiar with due to location near Equator but populated predominantly with African speaking mainly Seychellois Creole, French, and English. Being the smallest country in Africa, there are two categories of overall 115 islands: the granitic ‘Inner’ cluster with verdant forest that have been separated from other continents for many million years, and the ‘Outer’  a sparkling flat coral islands. Seychelles islands remained uninhabited by humans (except those odd pirate-ship crew, Arab traders and navigators) until mid-1700 although it was discovered by European at the start of 16th century by Vasco da Gama.This late human discovery has safely cocooned its unique life forms and untouched nature, but on the other hand the tranquility co-exist well with diversity of its people who immigrated to the islands-French, African,Indian, Chinese and English descent.

Seychelles’s Creole cuisine are contributed by blend of the melting pot of its immigrants – so expect the usage of ingredients such as coconut milk, butter, garlic, chili, ginger, vanilla,nutmeg, citronnelle (lemongrass) masala and curry spices. These are added with exquisite tropical fruits such as star fruit, coconut and jackfruit. Seafood is the base with various type fresh from Indian ocean though meat also used: shark, barracuda, parrot fish and kingfish along with the usual squid, octopus, grouper, bourgeois (red snapper), job fish, rabbit fish, tec tecs (tiny shellfish) and sea snails. Food crops such as cassava, sweet potatoes, plantains,and breadfruit are the staple diet of the Seychellois, although nowadays rice are eaten at every meal by the local people. They are usually eaten accompany by the savoury dishes such as salted fish chutney, cari zourite ( octopus curry) or any kind of caris masala. These are served with a fresh unsweetened chatini (chutney of crushed chilies, ginger, garlic, lemon juice) made by thinly sliced of local vegetable or tropical fruits such as the pawpaw (papaya), frisiter (golden apple), or even the eggplant. Some interesting dishes are rosettes (fruit bats) cooked in curry – a no go zone for moi, and shark chutney. Fish head soup and crab soup are also popular dishes. For salad, famous staple dishes are octopus salad like this one by Four Seasons’ famous chef, green pawpaw salad, and palmis (palm heart salad) also called Millionaire’s Salad because acquiring the heart of a palm tree require the whole palm tree to be cut down. A traditional Creole dessert is ladob prepared by cooking the breadfruit, cassava, or ripe bananas with coconut milk and sugar. Breakfast is served with toast and local jam made of banana, green papaya and star fruit. And at night, citronnelle tea is served to end the day – made from leaves of lemongrass (not the root).

Just how blended Seychellois culture are, the fusion shown in modern cuisine served at leading hotel is growing – a space to be watched.

Here are tested and tried within a very short visit to the main islands of Mahé and Praslin:
Maria’s Rock Café, Mahé
The restaurant nestled in a cave like building, designed to represent a pirate gallery complete with sails and skull motif. During my morning run around the beach where I stopped by and greeted by Maria Soubana – the owner who recalled me once introduced myself from earlier effort to get insight about Creole cuisine. We had a good chat over tea about Seychelles, tourism, her decade of business venture, and Creole cuisine. Due to my short stay and her restaurant commitment, it was not possible to plan other activities. She talked about sourcing fresh ingredients from local fisherman and local market in town, having Tuesday off to distinguish from other joints, and very proud to receive the Trip Advisor’s Certificate of Excellence for 3 years in a row. This is evidence for consistent friendly and warm service to travelers alike. Some of her customers are residents from nearby 5 stars resorts who look to venture something a lot more ‘real’ Seychelles experience. Without doubt Maria’s place satisfied that.

We visited again for lunch for the specialties from hot lava stone (she mentioned the stone was imported from Italy). Maria did the honour showing the cooking – click on SOTG’s Instagram where I posted a video on how this was prepared. Her restaurant is comfortable, though no sea-view it is very close to a beautiful cove – Pebbles Beach. We ordered 2 sets of fish and prawn that come with rice, salad, Creole sauces, saffron butter and chili condiment. The job fish were divine. Prawns were sweet and juicy. Adored the sauce greatly that we asked for a top up. Maria introduced me to her mother whom she learnt Creole cooking from. Beside the restaurant located Maria’s partner Antonio Filippin’s,an Italian born sculptor – Art Gallery Sculptor Studio. So after tummy fulled with the must-try hot stone grilled, we looked through the art gallery that showcased selection of arts from artists on the islands as well as Antonio’s woodcarving made from local bamboo. There are also Pirate Cove and Nature Walk Fort to burn off some calories.

Kannel at Four Seasons Resport, Mahé – a seafood buffet night where diners pick whatever fresh fish and shellfish they’d like from the boat display, which are then grilled and cooked to order. Everyone on table raved about the freshness of the crab and I concurred. This is an absolute paradise for seafood lover like moi. Great selection of fresh salads, tempura and sushi. Dessert like banana spring rolls, cinnamon apple spring rolls and pineapple tempuras served with toppings packed in toothpaste tube. The coconut ice-cream was sweet to my liking but full of flavour.
The next morning we made a quick visit to the hotel before heading to Praslin – and were very impressed with how lush the hilltop surrounding the resort. According to Taste by Four Season, “the hotel follows aspect of slow food culture by buying fish directly from local fisherman to serve as their ‘catch of the day’ and making dessert from fruits found on the different types of trees that grow on the property”. When asked about wonderful scent from the bushes around the hotel, a hotel staff talked about cinnamon tree where he showed the bark and leaves, then mentioned both usage in Creole curry.

Britannia Restaurant, Praslin – last minute pick on this hotel’s restaurant tucked off main road just 250 metres from the beach of Grand Anse. This restaurant well-known for its fish and typical creole dishes. Ordered fresh smoked sailfish salad with capsicum and onion which came fresh though a bit oily to my liking and my partner ordered job fish broth with tomatoes and green herb – a hearty soup full of flavour. For main, we feasted on delicious curry squid that is not too spicy but strong turmeric flavour. The fish stew with creole sauce is a tomato based dish – could be more kick with some spices. Washed down well with fresh papaya, mango and lime juice.

A few more restaurants that came highly recommended, but we sadly ran out of lunch and dinner slots:
Chez Plume, Mahé – specialities include fish fillet in passion fruit sauce, ginger infused crab and lobster.
Marie Antoinette, Mahé – this popular join opened since 1972.
Botanica Restaurant, Mahé – fine dining prepared from locally sourced foods and fusion cooking.
Bazar Labrin or Beau Vallon beach market, Mahé – held every Wednesday evening to experience local cooking at low prices.

There are entire spectrum to choose from five-star resort, boutique hotel, self-catering, guesthouse, and accommodation afloat that cater for various budgets and occasion. Our pick on Mahé deserved a mention given its location close to grocery stores, beaches, local café and two nearby 5 stars resort – link and pictures below. On Praslin, we stayed at a very friendly guesthouse of French and South African family who helped plan our stay and shared their experience living on the island. It’s true that you don’t need to spend a fortune like David and Victoria Bekham to experience paradise – check out Denis Island,  a self-sustainable private island where they stayed and also where Prince William and Kate Middleton escaped to after the royal wedding.This may give an idea of your own special getaway.

We flew business class direct to Mahé with Etihad Airways from Abu Dhabi Airport. Expect about four hours and 40 minutes flight. What a quality in-flight meal we had. Emirates also operate direct flights. We also flew to Praslin via Air Seychelles – under 40 minutes by twin-engine plane trip with stunning view of small islands and turquoise water.

Both Mahé and Praslin islands are small – can be covered within 1 hour 45 minutes by car. Car can be hired at the airport from 40 to 45 Euros. Cheaper option is to use local public buses. No traffic that cause to stop only when the plane passed through on Praslin and sometime when the manual car hiccuped before steep hill sections.

Visa is not required for entry regardless of nationality – although check update here on specific countries. The following documents must be shown to obtain immigration clearance at the Seychelles International Airport: a valid passport during stay, return ticket, proof of accommodation including contact details and sufficient funds during stay.

It’s always a good time to visit Seychelles due to a year-long warm, tropical climate – although different times of year may be better suited to particular interests. Conditions for swimming, snorkeling and especially diving are superb during April/May and October/November when the water temperature are warmer. We had few showers and heavy rain before the sun came out again.

While there are endless option for secluded anse (cove) of your choice, the idyllic beaches on Mahé are on West side such as Anse Soleil and Petitte Anse (get through from the Four Seasons‘ entrance) and on Praslin; Anse Lazio and Anse Georgette (get through from Lemuria Resort’s entrance). The main islands are rustic and hilly, with various inland hiking trails to explore. With most residents own tortoise as pet, spiders’ web almost everywhere in the bush or between power lines and crabs scuttling across the sand – Seychelles is playground for nature lovers.

The endangered Coco-de-Mer (coconut of sea) palms from female tree are famous for their nut’s shape (resemblance woman’s buttocks on one side, and a woman’s belly and thighs on the other side) and size (the largest seed in the plant kingdom) grow naturally on Vallée de Mai (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) on Praslin and Curieuse island. I also found the tree at Lemuria Resort on my way towards Anse Georgette and also planted at Seychelles National Botanical Gardens on Mahé. For mature palm tree (about 25 years old) it is interesting to distinguish a male tree by long catkin with many flowers (the middle long trunk shown in picture to the left below) and female tree with huge fruit – but not applicable to a normal coconut tree.

I leave you with pictures of magical Eden and longing to return in a heartbeat – the nature, eco-system, beaches, culture and gastronomy awaiting to be explored more. Tourism in Seychelles is not a mass market that I hope will stay in order to preserve its pristine beauty – although clever and sustainable initiatives hopefully help to boost a unique tourism sector.

Visit Seychelles Tourism Board for more details, or if you fancy visual and audio stimulation – click on CNN coverage here featuring Seychelles-Inside Africa series.

Thanking our dear good friend for the birthday invitation and to AF for many bless years to come, InsyaAllah.

Have I tempted you to visit? Any other recommendation for Seychelles? 

Au revoir,