Colonial culinary journey

Published Nov 29, 2015, 4:29 am IST
Updated Mar 26, 2019, 10:35 pm IST
A vast realm of France’s culinary treasures boasts of fusion food, spices and methods adopted from French colonies

The cooking of the French-speaking world — le cuisine de la francophonie — is a vast realm of France’s culinary treasures that boasts of fusion food, spices and methods adopted from colonies — medieval, modern and Michelin-star. In the case of France’s colonial history, their influence has extended from the Caribbean to Indo-China, Canada, the Indian Ocean and Pacific region and of course, Africa. And in each of the regions, the French culinary influence is as visible as their impact on the French cuisine.

In French Guyana, I came across buccan or boucan style of cooking — a process of cooking and drying meat popularly known as barbecuing. Poulet grillé is a street favourite that involves smoking the chicken on a stick over ember placed in a drum. Credit the pirates for the unique flavours and colours of fish, via the barbecuing process that involves the fuel mixture of sugarcane, rice and bread.


With fruits being grown in abundance in the Caribbean region and the influx of herbs from French colonies leaving its mark, two fabulous fruit-based delicacies have become popular in the region — avocado and smoked fish salad (salade d’avocat et poisson boucane) and swordfish steaks in a Creole sauce (pave de’Espadon farci).

Closer home and in Indo-China’s Vietnam, the culinary influences of China and France can be seen. It absorbed only a little of France’s culinary map, namely French bread, pate, yoghurts, styles of cooking vegetables etc.


For instance, the Vietnamese chicken liver pate is French-inspired but certainly not a pate as it uses butter instead of chicken fat for frying the liver, garlic and onions.

Similarly, the Vietnamese noodle soup or pho became a part of France’s culinary possessions, except the beef is cooked rare and they choose to add an extensive range of green leaves and herbs.

Meat cooked in a Vietnamese style on a bed of French fries or French colonial steaks are a proof of European influences on Vietnamese cuisine. France’s largest region of influence, till date, remains Mauritius, Madagascar, Reunion Islands.


The presence of tomatoes, garlic and chilli, the addition of herbs and the process of smoking meats can be found in all these former French colonies.

Another popular meat in the Reunion Islands is tenrec — a hedgehog-like animal. An interesting culture that I came across both in Reunion Islands and in France is La fete du cochon. Traditionally, pigs fattened on acorns would be slaughtered in autumn months and sold as ham, sausages and terrines to tide over the winter.

While seafood lacks a certain abundance in the Reunion Islands, simply hop over to India’s favourite honeymoon destination — Mauritius — and that’s where the French penchant for seafood is fully gratified.


Though my meal of the moment was not from the sea — rather, a red deer cooked like steak with a reduction of red wine and meat (beef) stock.

As plantation owners in 18th century Mauritius, the French culinary privileges included taking home the finest of truffles, goose and cheese — and these today, are an intrinsic part of a French culinary outing.

No journey through France’s colonial escapades is complete without a mention of their presence in Pondicherry — a pocket of French culture which endures till dates.

While French restaurants and cafes dot the scene, their origin lies in inter-marriage between Indians and French and a hybrid version of the cuisine that can be enjoyed in this South Indian city.


Ask for sausages such as saucisse and boudin and don’t be surprised if they’re a tad bit hotter than usual, or lamb noisettes in a roulade which look unsuspecting but have a hot and spicy filling of garam masala, cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger, onion and chillies. And of course, a French mulligatawny!

The writer is a chef and founder, Under One Roof Hotel Consultants

Swordfish steak with Creole sauce

For Creole sauce:
Onion, finely chopped 1
Garlic cloves 3
Butter 250 gm
Fresh thyme, chopped 1 tsp
Pinch of saffron
Salt to taste
Creme fraiche (French version of sour cream, available off the shelf) 250 ml

Add butter in a pan, add chopped onions and garlic. Sauté for two minutes. Add thyme and saffron. Pour creme fraiche and check for seasoning.
For Swordfish:
Swordfish steaks 2
Cheese 250 gm
Chopped parsley
Lemon, sliced 1

Lightly cook the swordfish steak on both sides with a little butter for 12-15 minutes.
Remove the steaks from the fire and put into an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle cheese on top and allow it to melt.
Pour the Creole sauce on top. Garnish with chopped parsley and squeeze half a slice of lemon over the dish.



Phyllo rolls with paprika orange coulis

Ingredients for phyllo rolls:
Phyllo pastry sheet 3
Carrot 1
Zucchini, small 1
Onion 1
Cabbage, chopped 2 tbsp
Leeks 2
Soya sauce 2 tsp
Olive oil for frying
Large prawns 3
Sesame seeds

For paprika orange coulis
Red paprika 8
Orange 1
Onions, chopped 2
Shallots 2
Garlic 1
Tomato puree 3 tbsp
Olive oil 400 ml

Add 2 tbsp of olive oil in a pan and stir fry all the vegetables. Add soya sauce and cook for about 15 minutes.
Add prawns and cook for a couple of minutes. Cut phyllo pastries into half, put 3-4 teaspoons of the vegetable mixture on every half sheet.
Add one large prawn per roll. Roll inward and seal both the ends. Brush them with olive oil and deep fry. In an oven dish, add paprika, chopped onions, shallots, peeled garlic, half orange and tomato puree. Bake in a pre-heated oven at about 180°C for a few minutes.
Take it out and squeeze the remainder orange juice onto the coulis mix. Preferably serve cold on the side with phyllo rolls.






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