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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Traveling in Mainland France but Dreaming of the French Caribbean? Look for One of the Many Mainland Restaurants Serving French-Créole Antillaise Cuisine .

French - Créole Antillaise cuisine
Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman
The cuisine from the French Caribbean island régions of Martinique and Guadeloupe, and the French administered islands of St. Barts and Saint Martin.  N.B. French régions are somewhat similar to USA states or UK counties and, despite the distance, over 6,000 kms, 4,000 miles from the French mainland, they are as much part of France as Paris.
The Caribbean.
There are many different French - Créole languages and cuisines, and for this post I have kept to the Créole Antillaise cuisine.  By the number of restaurants offering Créole Antillaise cuisine in mainland France, it is certainly the most popular and the one that I have enjoyed the most.

The sources of the very varied
French - Créole cuisines and languages.
The differences in the Créole cuisines begin with the different herbs, spices, fish, and meats that were and are locally available in each area. To the local foods add the languages, traditions and national heritages of the French settlers and the slaves the French settlers brought from Africa; and later the languages, traditions and customs of the indentured workers from India. Distance is also behind the different French Creole languages and cuisines. 
Antillaise dancer
Photograph courtesy of  Douz DIOP
Travelers arriving from the USA quickly realize that the French - Créole Antillaise cuisine is distinctly different to the French - Créole cuisine of Louisiana; not too surprising as Louisiana is 2,000 kms, 1,300 miles, from the French Caribbean. However, that difference is nothing compared with the French Island regions of Réunion and Mayotte in the Indian Ocean; they are 13,000 kms, 9,000 miles away from the French Caribbean and 9,000 kms, 5,000 miles, away from mainland France!  Another different French -Créole  cuisine and language? You  had better believe it; even when a dish has the same French name the recipe can be very different.

Your Créole Antillaise menu may offer:
 Accras de Morue – Deep-fried cod fritters made from rehydrated cod. The cod used for this dish is dried and salted cod that has been rehydrated and desalted. Dried cod was a staple food that could be stored and transported before there were refrigerators, and it is part of the Créole cuisine as it was imported by the French Caribbean settlers as a cheap food for slaves. 

Accra de morue, Sauce Chien, et Salade de Choux Piquante.


Accras de morue served with sauce chien and a piquant cabbage salad.  The word chien does translate  as a dog; however this sauce has nothing whatsoever to do with do with dogs, and the  real origin of the name is lost. The sauce is a mildly spicy 100% vegetable sauce or dip. Photograph courtesy of muchoco.  

Morue, also called, in mainland France, stockfish, is, after hundreds of years, a French comfort food, and will be on the menus of the best restaurants and bistros in mainland France; in Italy,  rehydrated cod is famous as baccalà.  If you want fresh cod then look on the menu for cabillaud, morue de l'Atlantique or morue franche.  

Rehydrated cod: (German –- kabeljau, dorsch), (Italian - baccalà), (Spanish  - bacalao, bacalao del Atlántico, bacallà).

Colombo de Porc -  A pork stew made with a blend of spices associated with Tamil Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine. The Colombo spice group includes coriander, turmeric, cumin, mustard, cloves, fenugreek and pepper.

Fricassé de Lambis - Fried conch; the popular and tasty large sea snail that is on menus all over the Caribbean. The first fricassées were French stews made with chicken; however, that was originally.  Today fricassées are also made with veal, vegetables, other poultry and shellfish, and that includes the conch.

The Scorpion Spider Conch
Photograph courtesy of Arenamontanus
Ragout de Cabri Antillaise – An Antillaise goat stew, usually served with rice. Tasty Antillaise ragouts, stews, use fewer vegetables and different herbs and spices than mainland ragouts. In modern French, a goat is a chèvre, and the word cabri comes from Occitan, the French language of d’Oc.   Occitan or d’Oc  is the language that lost out in the search for a single language to unite France; however, despite losing to out to modern French there are, still today, millions of French citizens who speak Occitan or one of its dialects alongside modern French. Occitan was brought to the islands by settlers, probably from Provence; apart from bringing their language the Provencal settlers would have also brought goats as Provence is famous for its many excellent  goats’ cheeses. 
Vivaneau Frit, Riz et Rondelles de Bananes Plantains -  Fried snapper served with rice and round slices of fried plantain cooking bananas. The plantain cooking bananas used in this recipe are an essential part of many French-Créole dishes. The snapper on the menu is one of the many members of the snapper family, and French menus never seem to indicate which is one is on the menu; all you usually see is vivaneau.  Despite the lack of information about the snapper on your menu, I can confirm that all the unnamed snappers that I have dined on have been excellent. 

Vivaneau minuit  - The midnight snapper
Photograph courtesy of Phillipe Guillaume
Gratin Chouchou à la Morue – A dish of chayote, also called custard marrow, and rehydrated cod, usually served as an entrée, the French first course.  For this dish the recipe calls for the pale green to whitish vegetables to be baked like potatoes, and then after the skin is removed, mashed.  The mashed chayote will be mixed with the rehydrated cod, and baked till it browns; just before serving grated gruyere cheese may sometimes be sprinkled on top for a golden-brown finish.

Fresh chayote.
Photograph courtesy of Manuel W.
Chayote originated in Mexico but is now a Caribbean staple, and fresh chayote is also served as a salad or as part of a mixed salad. One of the chayote’s other French names is Cristophine,  that is in honor of Christopher Columbus who brought the vegetable to Europe from Mexico.  (German – chayote), (Italian - frutto chayote, chayote), (Spanish - chayote).
 Blaff de Poisson  Fish marinated  in lime juice and then boiled or baked; this dish is traditionally accompanied by sweet potatoes or yams; with a menu listing like this ask what fish is being served.  Blaff may be made with almost any fish, white meat or shellfish and almost all Créole Antillaise menus will include at least one dish of blaff.  All blaff dishes are marinated in lime before cooking, and the recipes come with accents of curry, and or coconut.
Gateau Patate – A French Créole cake based on the patate douce sweet potatoes.   Sweet potatoes are those purple to brown, and sometimes almost white, skinned tubers that often come with pointed ends;  they have a white to yellow to orange flesh inside.  It was Christopher  Columbus who brought the sweet potato to Spain from South America, and from Spain the sweet potato quickly reached all of southern Europe where it grows well. 

Sweet potato cake.
Photograph courtesy of vanillevaness.

Despite growing well in Europe, the sweet potato was ignored for even longer than the common potato, also brought to Spain by Columbus.  Until the late18th century, France, the common potato was either considered toxic or only fit for animal feed.
Sweet potatoes were popular in France’s Caribbean territories but only made French mainland restaurant menus in the early 19th century, and then they were largely pushed aside by the newly popular potato.

The different colors of sweet potatoes.
Photograph courtesy of vanillevaness
The sweet potato was finally accepted into all French mainland homes fifty or sixty years ago, and now that it has been accepted there are hundreds of recipes. (German - süsskartoffel, batate, weisse kartoffel), (Italian - patata dolce, batat), (Spanish - moniato, papa dulce, patata dulce).
Crêpes Flambée au Rhum - Crepes flambéed in rum. The first crepes to be publicly flambéed in alcohol, according to tradition, were served to Great Britain’s Prince of Wales, in Monte Carlo, in 1896, by the chef Henri Charpentier. The Prince was asked to name the dish, and chose the name the Crêpes Suzette;  that was in honor of an eight year-old girl who accompanied her father, as the Prince’s dinner guest.

Crêpes Flambée
Photograph courtesy of Charles Nouÿrit
Rum, with 40% alcohol, is made from distilled sugar cane, and France’s finest rums are produced in Martinique. Martinique is a leading exporter of cane sugar, and so there is plenty available for making rum; since 1996, Martinique’s rums are protected by the French AOC label for unique wines, liquors and food products. 
AOC Rhum Martinique, three years old.
Photograph courtesy of SBPR
Martinique rum producers offer both white and dark rums with the best rums matured in oak barrels. When buying Martinique rum, called Rhum Agricole, look on the label for the age. Some rums may be labeled rhum vieux, old rum; however, the real age, if written at all, is written in years, as it is in the picture above; the age is not necessarily in the large print and from my experience only buy rum that is over three-years old. The usual meanings of VSOP, VSOP, Napoleoon and XO etc  when printed on the labels do not have the same meanings as they do for Cognac, Armagnac and Calvados; look for the written age.
The Creole Language in the USA
In the USA, the largest French- Créole speaking group are the Haitians immigrants.  A Haitian French-Créole speaker and Louisiana- French- Créole speaker will need a translator to talk to each other unless they speak in English or modern French; their cuisines differ even more. Caribbean Haitian French - Créole cuisine is also markedly different to the Antillaise Créole cuisine due to the Spanish influence that comes from Haiti's island neighbor, the Dominican Republic,

Bryan G.Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2013
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