Explore the Comoros Islands, with The Passionate Foodie

Explore the Comoros Islands, with The Passionate Foodie

Earthly Dishes photo.


Diverse and indigenous cuisine brought by the many ethnic people to St. Maarten from all over the world piques our interest. To this end, we are on a quest to find where it comes from, if it is used for celebrations, if it is exotic to some but everyday food to others. Anything to do with keeping the body and soul nourished with that which is produced from good old terra firma, is what makes the world go around.

On our slow meander island hopping up the African coast, we turn back from the Seychelles towards Dar es Salaam and then still head a little south to the Comoros Islands (Union of the Comoros.)

(I was brought up to say “Comores”, but looking at the spelling I imagine there are a few ways to pronounce Comoros!)

The official languages of the Comoros are Comorian, French and Arabic, although one finds Malagasy and Swahili spoken everywhere.

Visitors to the Comoros Islands see an extraordinary architectural heritage with some dating back to the 12th century.

This volcanic archipelago lies off Africa’s east coast in the Indian Ocean in the warm Mozambique Channel. Grande Comore, the largest island, is a stunning place with high mountains ringed by white sand beaches lined with palm trees. There are actually four main volcanic islands near each other, but the fourth, lying slightly south, is Mayotte, which is in the overseas Department of France.

Research shows that the island may have been occupied as far back as the 6th century. Yes, people were traveling the seas back then. The different peoples who made the crossings over time came from the Bantu speaking tribes; the Arabs; the Somalis; the Indians; the Portuguese and the French who arrived a little later. The Austronesian (including Malagasy) and Islam most likely made it there during the 10th century.

The islands are linked with countries and coastal towns up and down the African coast, including Zanzibar, Tanzania, Kenya. The Swahili culture here is strong, the region is quite prosperous. Trading between India, the African countries and the Middle East all contributed to this prosperity.

The name derives from the Arabic name for a moon – “kamar”. The Portuguese made landfall in 1505. In those early centuries, political power was held by the rulers of the land. Along came the colonials, settling their peoples, the French established plantations for sugar. Years later, they also grew spices and plants for perfumes. No wonder the French are known for the delicious perfumes to this day. The French also planted vanilla, cloves and copra.

By 1946, the Comoros became a French overseas territory.

“In 1974, France organized a referendum for self-determination in the archipelago in which the population, except in Mayotte, voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence. Following the unilateral declaration of independence in 1975, France maintained sovereignty over Mayotte.

The other three islands formed the Etat Comorian, which later became the Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoro Islands and is today the Union of the Comoros.”

Since gaining independence, Comoros has experienced more than 20 coup attempts and with one of the worst levels of income inequality migration to French island of Mayotte, the most prosperous island in the area, is rife.

This active volcanic area was formed, together with the high mountains in the north of Madagascar, during the Tertiary and Quaternary periods. Mayotte was the first island formed and the one still standing above sea level. The volcanic activity progressively decreased from east to west. Today, Grande Comore, the youngest island, is still volcanically active with a volcano that takes up about two-thirds of the island. The land on these islands is very fertile.

Life in these islands is not always peaceful. In 1997, there were demands made for increased autonomy on the two smaller islands – Anjouan and Moheli. This led to the end of the Federal Islamic Republic.

In 2001, the government reformed as the Union of the Comoros. This new constitution gave the three islands more autonomy than before.

In 2008, the President of Anjouan refused to hold free elections. The military of the Comorian and the African Unions joined up and with their intervention, the President was forced to flee.

Minor changes have been made to the constitution; however, life continues on with the present form of government.

There was a period of airplanes being hijacked and, in 1996, one of Ethiopian Airlines suffered this fate. The plane crashed of the coast of Grande Comore and all but 50 people on board died. The three hijackers also met their end.

Greater care is being taken with the conservation of the environment. Measures have been taken to preserve the rare fauna, and to check the destruction of the environment in the more densely populated areas. The felling of the trees in the forests for food for the local has been curbed by the subsidizing of kerosene as the fuel they should use instead. This is a difficult one if they like to cook over coals, but nevertheless it is what it is.

These islands have one really awful bug – there are venomous centipedes that can reach up to 25 centimetres long! Boy, being bitten by even a tiny centipede on our island is not a pleasant ordeal; can you imagine, or better, don’t!

You can have alcoholic drinks in hotels and some restaurants and at home, but beware of drinking in public places, like the beaches – fines and/or imprisonments are handed out if caught.

Comorians are followers of Islam; religious celebrations are widely observed. Arab, French and African influences are seen in the culture – in their music, performing arts, and the skill of the artists that do sculpture, pottery, embroidery, and basketry.

Surrounded by the seas that offer bounty and the fertile lands on which to plant, the Comorians have a fresh and varied diet that has been influenced over the centuries by all who have settled there.

Arab and French cuisine perhaps influence the dishes the most. Sauces spiced with cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and vanilla clothe rice dishes. Coconut milk is a staple. Of course, the African influence comes in with plantain, cassava and bananas. Meat, like goat and beef, is reserved for special occasions, while seafood, like lobster, crab and fish, all locally caught, is eaten in abundance.



Lobster Tails with vanilla sauce (the first recipe apparently came from a French chef in the 1890’s. Lobsters in the Comoros are generally a species of South African crayfish. This recipe can be doubled easily.


2 lobster tails (of course, whole bodies can be used fresh)

4TBL butter

3 shallots, minced

¼ cup white wine

1 vanilla bean

2tsp vanilla extract

Salt to taste

½ cup whipping cream

16oz spinach


Broil lobster in a hot oven (better yet, cook over the coals).

To prepare, cut through the shell along the back.

Pull the shell apart to expose the lobster tail meat inside.

Drizzle with olive oil – either broil on high in the oven or over hot coals for about 5 mins.

Vanilla Sauce

Melt butter over medium heat.

Add shallots, gently cook until shallots are translucent.

Add wine, vanilla extract and seeds from the vanilla bean.

Cook until the mixture has reduced by half.

Add cream and salt to the wine and simmer gently until the sauce begins to thicken – about 5 mins.

Strain the sauce – set both sauce and strained shallots aside.

Sautee spinach until just wilted.

Platelayer of spinach, layer of shallots and top with lobster.

Drizzle the vanilla sauce over the lobster.

Mkatra Foutra/Flatbread (This pancake/crumpet like fry-bread is eaten everywhere, mostly for breakfast, but it is also served as a side. Use a heavy-based frying pan (cast iron); it will turn out great bread.)


4 cups flour

1 can coconut milk (15oz)

2¼ tsp active dry yeast

A little warm water

2 beaten eggs

1 tsp salt


Sesame seeds


Dissolve yeast in warm water with a pinch of flour.

Add flour and eggs, mix thoroughly.

Add coconut milk, mix well until a smooth dough is formed.

Allow to rise for an hour.

Turn dough into 4-6 balls.

Flatten slightly with a floured hand.

Melt a little butter into the frying pan at a medium heat.

Add the flattened dough balls.

Sprinkle sesame seeds on top.

When golden, turn over and cook until golden.

Serve warm with butter and/or honey.

Soupe Faux Pois (light and refreshing)


1LB fresh or frozen peas

1 small chopped tomato

¼-inch grated ginger

1 small chopped onion

2 cloves minced garlic

1 tsp salt and to taste

½ tsp of cayenne pepper

1 scan cup of coconut milk

2 cups water

1 TBL olive oil


Lightly brown onion and garlic in oil.

Add remaining ingredients except coconut milk.

The water should just cover.

Bring to a boil.

Simmer for 25 minutes.

Remove from heat.

Add coconut milk.

Blend until a smooth puree.

Serve drizzled with some coconut milk and some hot sauce.

Garnish with a thin wedge of lemon and a coriander leaf.

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