In the crystal waters of the Indian Ocean, southeast of India is the archipelago of the Republic of Maldives. It consists of 1,192 coral islands in 26 coral atolls, 200 of which are inhabited by the Maldivian people. There are 80 islands leased to international resorts. The local staple is fish, usually combined with coconut and rice. Capsicum, chilli, onions, curry leaves and lemon juice are used in many preparations. Many of the flavours are derived from Kerala and Sri Lanka and are often very spicy and hot.
While all the resorts in the Maldives provide a great variety of international food, many with restaurants covering Italian, Japansese, French and Indian food, eating new dishes can be one of the real pleasures of traveling so read on if you wish to learn more about local Maldivian cuisine.
Tuna is the main fish served. Skipjack tuna, little tunny, frigate tuna and yellowfin tuna are the favourites. Wahoo, Mahi-mahi and bigeye scad are also eaten. Fish is prepared in several ways including boiled, smoked, sun dried or processed.
Processed tuna, or Maldive fish, is produced in the Maldives and is a staple of Maldivian cuisine. It is also exported, mainly to Sri Lanka. The production process is to cut the fish in a particular way, boil it in water, smoke it and sun-dry it until it is like a piece of wood. With this type of preparation, the fish can be kept without refrigeration for years.
Maldive fish is flaked or pounded into small pieces and added to other dishes as flavouring. It is also sometimes used to make the filling for a dough-wrapped pastry eaten as a snack called short eats.
Garudiya is a traditional preparation which may be served every day. It is a clear fish broth made with one of the favourite fish. After cleaning, the fish is well cooked in boiling water with salt. It will produce foam on top that is removed and discarded. Chillies, onions and curry leaves may be used to flavour the soup, but usually it is made with fish, salt and water. It is served hot with rice, lemon, onion and chilli.
If the soup is cooked until all the water is boiled away, a thick, brown paste remains. This is called Rihaakuru and is also a traditional Maldivian dish. It is consumed almost every day in Maldivian homes. In the Maldives, eating raw fish is not in their tradition.
Coconuts are used in most Maldivian recipes. They are grated, squeezed for the coconut milk or pressed for coconut oil. Grating takes place on a small stool with an extended serrated blade. The cook sits on the stool and scrapes the coconut meat from the inside of the half shell. To get the milk, the scraped coconut is squeezed after soaking in water. This coconut milk is used in curries, desserts and other dishes. The oil is used for anything deep fried.
There are three stages of the development of the coconut that are used in Maldivian cooking. The first stage is called Kurumba. It is tender coconut and the coconut water is taken as a refreshing drink. The custard-like flesh is also eaten.
The coconut develops soft, fleshy meat. It is grated or removed with a knife and eaten with coconut honey or as an ingredient of some desserts. It is called Gabulhi.
The coconut that is used for cooking is the hard flesh. It is scrapped out of the half shell and added to fish and curries. Coconut milk is made from this flesh.
Rice is boiled or ground into flour and there are also tubers used in Maldivian cuisine. Taro, sweet potato, tapioca are used as is breadfruit, which are all eaten boiled. Fruits include pandanus, bananas, mangoes and papaya.
Flat bread called roshi is traditional. It is like an Indian chapatti or parotha. It is made with three cups of all-purpose flour, three tablespoons of vegetable oil, one and a half teaspoons of salt and warm water. All the dry ingredients are mixed together and the warm water is slowly added. The dough is kneaded until it is dry and smooth. Small pieces, about the size of a Ping-Pong ball, are rolled out to a flat circle about six inches in diameter. It is cooked on both sides on a hot griddle with no oil.
The most common Maldivian breakfast is Mashuni. It is a smoked tuna dish with coconut.
1 cup diced smoked tuna
1 cup scraped coconut
1 finely chopped onion
1 finely chopped Chinese capsicum
Lemon juice and salt to taste
Mash together the onions, capsicum, lemon juice and salt. Mix in the tuna until it is well combined and add the coconut. This is eaten with roshi.
Sometimes Mashuni is baked inside the roshi. This is called Masroshi. The Roshi is shaped into small balls and flattened by hand. The Mashuni is also formed into small balls and folded into the roshi and shaped into round cakes. This is baked in medium heat until it looks golden brown.
The correct use and proportion of spices is important in Maldivian cooking to make sure the right flavour is achieved. The spices not only create the flavour, but also the colour, which is just as important.
Maldivian food includes curries that came to the islands from South India and Sri Lanka, but the Maldive people made them all their own. Dhon Riha or Maldivian Tuna Curry is a favourite. It is eaten with roshi or rice.
1 medium size tuna that has been skinned, boned and chopped into chunks of one inch
¼ tablespoon turmeric powder
1 inch crushed ginger
Salt to taste
2 cups thick coconut milk
1 cup thin coconut milk
1 cup scraped coconut
1 finely sliced onion
½ tablespoon cinnamon powder
7 teaspoons curry powder
2 pieces of raw mango skinned
½ chili pepper
To prepare, blend into a smooth paste one quarter tablespoon turmeric powder, salt and one cup scraped coconut.
Mix together one cup of thick coconut milk and one cup of thin coconut milk. Keep another cup of thick coconut milk aside. Mix one half tablespoon cinnamon, one inch of crushed ginger, one finely sliced onion. Put half of this in the coconut milk. Let this boil on low heat. In a separate bowl, mix the coconut paste and the rest of the cinnamon mixture and dip one inch cubes of 500 grams of tuna filet into this mixture. When the coconut milk combination begins to boil add the tuna, seven teaspoons of curry powder, half of a red chili pepper, two pieces of skinned raw mango and salt. Stir while cooking over low heat. When it begins to boil, add the other cup of thick coconut milk and let it cook for three more minutes.
Theluli Mas is spicy fried fish. It is a very common dish and quick and easy to prepare. Sometimes the ingredients change a bit on different islands.
3 tuna steaks about 1/3 inches thick
2 ½ tablespoons lonumirus curry powder
2 ½ tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup oil for frying
Start with one third inch thick tuna steaks. Mix to a paste two and a half tablespoons of lonumirus curry powder, a hot chilli curry powder, and two and a half tablespoons of tomato paste. This paste should be rubbed into the tuna steaks and covered with plastic wrap.
After half an hour, heat one third to one half cup of coconut or vegetable oil in a pan and arrange the steaks in the oil. Put on the lid and let it cook on low heat until the bottom side is brown. Turn the steaks over and cook until the other side is brown. They should be slightly crispy. This can be served with rice, roshi or vegetables.
Breadfruit is used for curries, desserts and short eats. A popular breadfruit curry is Banbukeylu Harisa.
1 breadfruit skinned, cored and steamed until very soft
¼ of a smoked tuna thinly sliced
2 chopped onions
1 hot chili pepper
2 teaspoons lemon juice
¼ teaspoon ginger paste
2 cups thick coconut milk
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 piece pandan leaf
4 curry leaves
1 tablespoon ghee
Salt to taste
One small breadfruit is skinned, cored and steamed until it is tender and then mashed. One tablespoon of ghee is heated and a quarter of two chopped onions is added to the ghee along with one piece of pandan leaf, one quarter teaspoon of ginger paste and four curry leaves. This is stir-fried until the onions are golden. Then it is moved to a plate.
The remaining onion, one red chilli, two teaspoons of salt and two teaspoons of lemon juice are mixed together. Add one quarter thinly sliced smoked tuna to this and then add the breadfruit and mix thoroughly. When it is mixed, add two cups of thick coconut milk and one quarter teaspoon turmeric powder and bring it to a boil on low heat. When it begins to boil, add the fried onion mixture that was set aside. This is served with rice or roshi.
Theluli faa Banbukeyo
1 ripe breadfruit
Coconut or vegetable oil for frying
A simple snack made with breadfruit is deep fried ripe breadfruit or Theluli faa Banbukeyo. Peel and cut one ripe breadfruit into wedges about one to one half inch thick. Deep fry the pieces in coconut or vegetable oil until they are golden brown.
Grilled and Fried Fish
One whole fish gutted with scales removed
2 ounces dried chili
1 once chopped onion
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon cumin powder
2 curry leaves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
Salt to taste
Fihunu Mas is Maldivian grilled fish. It is easy to prepare and very popular. Select a fish. Tuna is the most common, but reef fish is also used. The whole fish is gutted with the scales removed and fillet sliced to the bone. Blend to a thick, smooth paste two ounces of dried chili, one ounce chopped onion, two garlic cloves, one teaspoon of cumin powder, two curry leaves, one teaspoon of black peppercorns and salt to taste. The fish should be pierced on a large skewer. The slits made from filleting should be filled with the spice paste. It is then cooked on a barbeque grill on both sides until it is done.
Another tuna favourite is Bis Keemiyaa. It is a pastry envelope with a tasty tuna and egg filling.
1 cup diced smoked tuna
2 finely chopped Chinese capsicum
1/3 cup finely chopped curry leaves
1 cup finely sliced onion
1 tablespoon crushed black pepper
3 cups finely sliced cabbage
5 chopped hard boiled eggs
Salt to taste
3 cups sifted flour
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
Oil for frying
Begin by sautéing one cup finely chopped onions and one half cup chopped curry leaves in vegetable oil. Add three cups of finely sliced cabbage and stir fry until the cabbage is soft. Add one cup diced smoked tuna, two chopped Chinese capsicum, one tablespoon crushed black pepper and five chopped hard boiled eggs. When it is well mixed, let it cool.
While it is cooling, the dough can be made. Mix three cups of sifted flour, one teaspoon salt and one third cup of vegetable oil in a bowl and gradually add warm water. Knead it until it is dry and smooth. Make balls about the size of a Ping-Pong ball and roll the out flat about four inches in diameter. Put about two teaspoons of the mixture in the centre and fold it over twice and press it to make sure it doesn’t open when frying. Deep fry until they are brown then drain off the extra oil.
10 cups of water
2 cups diced breadfruit
1 cup thick coconut cream
2 cups sugar
Breadfruit also makes a great dessert. Boil 10 cups of water and add two cups of breadfruit that has been cut into small pieces. Let it cook on medium heat. When it is finished, drain the water and leave the breadfruit in the pot. Add two cups of sugar and cook it until the sugar melts. It will be very sticky. On low heat, add one cup of thick coconut milk and simmer for a few minutes.
10 ripe bananas
1 cup sugar
3 cups flour
1 cup dried or scraped coconut
Rose water or vanilla essence
Vegetable oil for deep frying
Another popular dessert is Dhonkeyo Kajuru or fried banana cake. Mash ten very ripe bananas with one cup of sugar. When this is well mixed, add three cups of flour and one cup of dried or scraped coconut. When this is mixed together well, add either rose water or vanilla essence. Set the mixture aside and heat vegetable oil. When the oil is hot the mixture can be spooned into the hot oil in balls and fried until golden brown. Drain the excess oil.
The local population does not drink alcoholic beverages, but alcohol is served in the tourist resorts. Tea is one of the favourite drinks for Maldivians, and they make it in several tasty ways. They also enjoy tender coconut water and Raa, which is toddy tapped from palm trees.
4 cups water
3 teaspoons loose tea
1 inch ginger
3 inch cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves
3 cardamom pods opened
2 cups milk
3 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
½ cup sugar
Masala Chai is tea is made with regular tea and spices. Start with boiling four cups of water. Add three teaspoons of loose tea, one inch ginger, one half cup sugar, three opened cardamom pods, two whole cloves and a three inch cinnamon stick. Let this simmer for five minutes. Add two cups milk and three tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk and let it heat, but not boil, for about three minutes. Strain it and serve.
Maldivian cuisine is based on fish, coconut and rice, but, because of trade with Sri Lanka and South India, many other flavours have been added to create a menu that is unique to the Maldives.