Let us go to the market!
I usually take my readers to natural settings or historical places when not in a garden tour but of course I also have to eat every once in a while, so this morning we will be going to the street market in Saint-Pierre.
Vendors in this market are mostly growers who offer their own produce, but there are also retailers and one part of the market is dedicated to crafts; some of which are local and some from nearby Madagascar. As Saint-Pierre is located on the coast, the sun soon becomes scorching so the market starts rather early, the first stalls are ready by 5 o'clock in the morning, an hour before sunrise. But I know you don't want to get up at 5:30 just to buy a kilo of chouchous and a bag of pineapples, so we will wait a little and meet at the market entrance around 9, is this fine with you?
So here we are. It's not really a formal entrance as if it were a closed or walled market; rather, this one really is a street market and it is set all along the street running close to the ocean. We have to take a little detour and park close to this water fountain which offers a welcome freshening air as heat has already started building up. In case you forgot (it often happens when you are on holiday!) today is Saturday and you will be reminded by the smell of smoke and grilled chicken from this grill-truck on the right. This is almost an institution on Reunion, we eat grilled chicken on weekends, so more or less sophisticated barbecues appear here and there by the side of the road. Folks start grilling at an early hour, so we will pass by and buy our chicken on the way back so it will still be warm for lunch. The local name for them is ‘poulet la poussiére' which may translate as ‘dust chickens' as they are prepared and cooked close to the road and may have a little extra flavor...
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| Poulets la poussiére to go....|| Genuine street market || Baskets from Madagascar|
Anyway, let us enter an alley and see what we can fill our basket with. Oh but I see that you have no market basket with you? No problem, we will get you a nice strong colorful basket hand made in Madagascar that many vendors offer, it will only cost you a few Euros (yes, Reunion is part of Europe although we are 10.000 km away) and will endure for a long time. They are made with natural material, usually raffia (from the palm tree Raphia farinifera), sisal (Agave sisalana) or various other plants.
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| Samoussa anyone?|| Chew on a cane|| Or have it pressed!|
Let us stop by this vendor and get a few samosas (or samoosas) to nibble while wandering around. You have a choice of these little fried pastries filled with a variety of veggies, meat, fish, cheese, more of less hot depending on the person who made them and how much hot pepper has been used! Now if your mouth is burning you can have a glass of freshly made fruit juice--really fresh as it will be made right before your eyes. And if you feel like the orange juice embellished with banana and pineapple is not sweet enough you can upgrade to sugarcane juice which will very certainly satisfy your sweet tooth! As you know, sugarcane is the main crop here and we are now in the middle of harvest season (August to December) as the relative coolness of austral winter induces sugar level to rise in the plant (see this article
and this one
for more details). If you prefer strengthening your teeth and gums you can get a piece or even a whole sugar cane from this other stall and if you do not chew the whole of it you can save a bit and put it to root in your garden or in a flower pot; it grows quite easily.
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| Various spices|| Vanilla pods|| More spices and baskets|
I now see eyes sparkling and noses wriggling as vanilla is in the air! Yes, vanilla (the processed seedpod of a Mexican climbing orchid, Vanilla planifolia) has been produced on the island since the famous slave Edmond Albius understood how to hand-pollinate the flowers in 1841 while he was only twelve years old. Before that, the vanilla plant would only be used for decorative purpose as its pollinizing insect was missing (a bee from the Melipona genera). Today the plant is grown mainly in the south and east areas of the island where the warm and humid weather suits its requirements, usually in secondary forest which is cleared enough to allow work but natural supports are kept for the liana to grow on. Now beware that two different kinds of vanilla pods are for sale here; the ‘vanille Bourbon' is a trademark which has been designed in order to distinguish vanilla produced In the Indian Ocean (Madagascar, Mauritius, Reunion) from the one produced in America and the Pacific but then there is a second distinction to be made. Vanilla grown and processed on Reunion is supposed to be a very high quality product but several times as expensive as the one from Madagascar...I am not persnickety enough to make the distinction so choice will be up to you! Just after the vanilla we will visit a man selling a wide choice of spices all meant to be used in local recipes: cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, curry, massale, hot pepper paste of various strength. A little farther you will be able to purchase large baskets made with bamboo or strawberry-guava wood (Psidium cattleyanum). They are used to stack fruits, veggies or any other items in large quantities. The bamboo ones are lighter but the Psidium ones will last forever.
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| Poultries and fighters!|| Right or left?|| 'Fleurettes'|
We are now reaching the other end of the market where poultry is sold, I doubt that you want to fly back home with a live chicken in your suitcase but we can have a look anyway. Either in cages or tethered with a string attached to a leg there is a display of chickens, geese, guinea fowls, ducks, and a few rabbits and of course some fighting cocks. This is a big thing here although you will not find mention of it in your tourist booklets but cock fights have always been much enjoyed and are still set in special places called ‘rond' (which means 'ring'.) This tradition is unlawful in France but two French regions have been granted the authorization to keep it alive; Nord Pas-de-Calais (north-east of France) and Reunion (plus other overseas territories) because it is considered a local tradition. Cocks are raised and trained to fight and can sell for very high price if they are good fighters because the owner can make big money from the bets (which are of course illegal!). Let us turn to a more peaceful sight with those flowers sold in large bouquets; they are often grown in high altitude gardens as a byproduct and called ‘fleurettes' which means little flowers even if they can become massive!
Well, the baskets are now full of vegetables and fruits plus a good choice of spices and the sun is really getting serious in its proclivity to radiate, so let us walk a few hundred feet to the lagoon, have a bath in the warm water and enjoy life in the tropics!