Inspired by the culture and cuisine of this Indian Ocean jewel– and a luxurious stay at Banyan Tree Seychelles – Michelin-starred chef Alfred Prasad shares his exciting new tropical recipes.
Famous for its indigenous Coco de Mer palm, the Seychelles is a living museum of natural history, a sanctuary for some of the rarest species of flora and fauna on earth, and home to the bluest waters of the Indian Ocean. No wonder both Peter Sellers and George Harrison once had holiday homes here. As a chef, I couldn’t wait to discover the cuisine of these isles and their happy, easy-going people.
My culinary adventure took me to Mahé, the archipelago’s largest island. As an ardent admirer of the incredible plant heritage and preservation undertaken at London’s Kew Gardens, I already knew that the Seychelles is at the forefront of nature conservation and home to unique world heritage sites.
To my utter delight, I discovered the resort I was staying at, Banyan Tree Seychelles, incorporates beautiful, natural wetlands, a conservation society, an expansive herb and vegetable farm and a lush forest – home to 120 endemic species. The resort is tucked away in a private cove, and has the best view over the beach at Intendance Bay and the picturesque south-west coastline.
It’s not often I’m lost for words, but my villa was more like a view with a room than vice versa. From the large private pool to the short path to the beach, via a shower room that doubled up as a steam room, a Jacuzzi, a veranda with sun loungers, and an open- air living pavilion, there were endless – and endlessly luxurious – ways to relax. Wanting to understand the nuances and operations of cooking in an island country, I chatted to the resort’s very talented chef
Gwenaël Briat, who has lived on the islands for over a decade. While local produce is super-fresh and exciting, many of the basic culinary items I take for granted as a chef – like tomatoes, onions and potatoes – must be imported from elsewhere.
Gwenaël has an infectious love for island life, and proved an informative and enthusiastic guide to local cuisine. As a thank you to all the local chefs I met, I cooked them some of my own Indian comfort dishes: black pepper chicken, Malabar fish, mung lentils and a morning glory poriyal. Sharing culinary secrets always fosters camaraderie.
I tend to understand any new place or unfamiliar culture by its people. The history of Seychelles is dotted with African, Indian, British, French and Chinese settlers, each bringing their distinct traditions and cuisines to the vibrant Seychellois melting pot. Kreyol cuisine is tangy, sweet, rich and spicy; aromatic and well-balanced. Sourness comes from tamarind, green mango and bilimbi (a long gooseberry-type fruit); heat from chilli; creaminess from coconut.
Fish and seafood may be served raw, roasted, grilled, smoked, fried, or in South Indian-esque curries like the zourit (octopus) version that’s hailed as the Seychelles’ national dish. Along with rice, satini (literally chutney, but in this case more a salad), is a common accompaniment. Other veggies include pumpkin, cassava and aubergine. Lashings of palm wine or ‘calou’ accompany meals. I had my first Kreyol meal at the resort at Chez Lamar, where the zourit and smoked marlin salad were both sensational.
In Victoria, 45 minutes from my resort, I visited Sir Selwyn Clarke market, where the whole of Mahé seemingly converges, and where I discover 10 varieties of chilli. The country also produces 17 varieties of bananas and harvests mangoes up to three times a year. The egg truck I spotted took me back in time to when egg-only shops were the norm in India. Little Indian off licences appear on every other street in Victoria. I stocked up on water and breadfruit crisps, lapsing into Tamil with the owners, who were all delighted to engage in a little bonhomie.
Back at Banyan Tree Seychelles, I sipped a chilled beer and bird-watched from the cool shade of a massive Takamaka tree in my villa garden. A trip to the spa, perched at the forest edge with a panoramic view of the water ended just as a spectacular sunset began.
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Dining at Saffron, the resort’s signature Thai restaurant, I was able to chat to Chef Saengduan Saengnopparat, who hails from a farming family in the north of Thailand. A keen weekend fisherwoman, she quickly revealed herself as a character with the most amazing stories to tell. And I came home with my own stories, including my love for the locals’ beach barbecue parties, where groups congregate to cook over makeshift grills, extending an open-door policy to passers-by. The Seychellois love for life is infectious , and the islands’ food is completely unforgettable.
There’s never actually a bad time; the Seychelles has a warm, stable climate all year round. However the water is clearer and warmer during April, May, October and November – ideal for swimming, snorkelling and diving. Love bird-watching? Visit between April and September.
Head to Banyan Tree Seychelles to help with its turtle and terrapin rehabilitation efforts. The resort gives weekly tours around its managed wetland – join daily beach patrols to spot new turtle nests or hatchlings. One of the best dive spots in the world, the Seychelles offers shallow waters and abundant coral reefs like Aldabra, the world’s largest raised coral atoll, while the Ennerdale tanker wreck is 30m below the surface.
Mahé’s walking trails take in coves, waterfalls and amazing views. Try the Anse Major trail, which follows the north-western coastline to a small secluded beach. Find the original Garden of Eden, thought to be The Vallée de Mai. This primeval forest is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to 6,000 Coco de Mer trees.
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