International Cooking: Food from the Maldives

It was very quickly obvious to me that tuna is popular in the Maldives. Most of the savory dishes I came across included it. Although I like tuna, I didn’t want to eat it every day, so I skipped some dishes I would have otherwise loved to try. I’ll save those for another day. I did manage to find some great non-tuna food from the Maldives too!

The Maldives, historically known as the Maldive Islands, is a South Asian country located in the Indian Ocean, southwest of Sri Lanka and India. It is made up of 26 atolls consisting of over 1000 islands, but most are tiny and uninhabited. The Maldives is the smallest country in Asia.

The islands have been inhabited for over 2,500 years. The earliest documented contact with the outside world was around 947 AD, when Arab travelers began to visit. Due to the frequency of Arab and Persian traders, the archipelago developed strong ties with Asia and Africa and began to adopt Islam by the 12th century.

Starting in the 16th century, European colonial powers began to spread their influence over the area and the Maldives became a British protectorate in 1887. The Maldives gained independence in 1965 and established a presidential republic a few years later.

In the following decades, the country has suffered from political instability and environmental challenges due to climate change and rising sea levels. Today, the Maldives is a Commonwealth country and rates high on the Human Development Index.

What Do People Eat in the Maldives?

Fishing is dominant in the Maldivian economy and fish and seafood, particularly tuna, have long been staple foods. Fish may be eaten raw, cooked, dried, or smoked.

Starches such as rice, taro, sweet potato, cassava, and breadfruit are popular, either as side dishes or as part of a main dish. Screwpine fruit and leaves (pandan leaves) are also commonly used.

Another popular ingredient is coconut in many forms: freshly grated coconut, coconut milk, or coconut oil. A lot of the dishes I came across featured tuna and coconut together. It seems to be a popular Maldivian combination!

The Maldives does show some influences from its proximity to Asia, particularly in the use of a wide range of spices. This is primarily evident in Maldivian curries, such as kukulhu riha.

What I Made

Scroll down to read about other popular Maldivian dishes I didn’t make!

Garudhiya (Tuna Soup)

Garudhiya (Tuna Soup)

Garudhiya is considered the national dish of the Maldives; it’s very common. It’s a simple soup made from tuna, onion, garlic, curry leaves, salt, and pepper.

Since the tuna is cooked through here, I used canned tuna, which I saw used in a few of the recipes I looked at. I really don’t like fresh tuna much unless it’s rare.

I added onion, garlic, curry leaves, salt, and peppercorns to some water and let it cook for a little while. Then I added the tuna and cooked for a few minutes more, just to let it warm through, before serving.

This is typically served with plain white rice or roshi; lime juice or crushed chilies may be added. I served lime wedges on the side and added some chili flakes to my soup.

I thought this was fine for what it was, but it was a little lacking in flavor. The lime juice made a big difference though so I would definitely recommend including that. Additionally, the recipe I followed suggested adding Rihaakuru, a Maldivian fish paste, but I did not have that.

The recipe I followed here is from Nadiya’s Tastes of Maldives.

Mas Huni (Tuna with Coconut, Onion, Lime, and Chili)

Mas Huni (Tuna with Coconut, Onion, Lime, and Chili)

Mas huni is a popular breakfast dish with many variations; I chose a recipe that included collard greens along with the main ingredients. It’s usually served with roshi, but I had not made mine yet so I used a tortilla (which is in all honesty very similar).

This was a simple dish, with no cooking required. I combined thinly sliced collard greens, onions, chili, and curry leaves with shredded coconut, canned tuna, and fresh lime juice. I seasoned with a little salt and pepper and my mas huni was ready.

This tasted alright; the tuna and coconut was a new combination for me but it actually worked pretty well.

The recipe I used is from Lonumedhu.

Bis Keemiya (Egg and Cabbage Pastries)

Bis Keemiya (Egg and Cabbage Pastries)

These little pastries are typically filled with cabbage, onion, and boiled eggs, but I saw some recipes that included tuna too. I decided not to include that since I was already eating enough tuna this week!

First, I cooked the filling. I sautéed onion, chili, and cabbage in oil until soft. Then I added chopped hard-boiled eggs. I seasoned with salt and pepper and let the pan rest off heat to cool down.

I made the pastry from flour, water, and a little oil. Once it came together, I kneaded it for a few minutes and divided it into balls—one for each pastry.

These pastries were very easy to make. I just rolled out each dough ball, added the filling, and folded over all four sides, kind of like a parcel.

Typically these would be deep-fried, but I chose to bake them in the oven instead. I sprayed them and the baking sheet with oil, then baked them at 375°F for around 20-25 minutes, until they started to brown.

I was pleasantly surprised by these pastries. I thought they might be bland, but they actually had a lot of flavor, especially considering the simple ingredients. They were also pretty crispy fresh out of the oven, though I’m sure they would have been even more so if I had deep-fried them.

The recipe I used for these is from Lonumedhu.

Kukulhu Riha (Chicken Curry)

Kukulhu Riha (Chicken Curry)

This chicken curry is seasoned with a mix of fresh ingredients like ginger and garlic, and dried spices such as cardamom and cinnamon. It is usually served with roshi (next dish) and/or rice.

First I toasted cumin seeds, coriander, seeds, dried red chilies, peppercorns, cardamom pods, and cinnamon. Then I ground them up in my spice grinder with some ground turmeric. I took the cardamom seeds out of the pods first and discarded the pods themselves, since I don’t think they have much flavor.

I seasoned some chopped chicken thighs with lime juice, garlic, ginger, salt, and some of the spice mix. I left it to marinate for about half an hour.

Next, I sautéed some sliced onion and whole curry leaves in ghee. I was also meant to add a pandan leaf at this point but I left it out. I added more ginger and garlic, then the chicken, and after a few minutes I added chicken stock. Once the chicken was cooked through, I added more of the dry seasoning, though not all of it as the recipe suggested since I thought that might be too much. I think this was the right decision, because the curry turned out delicious! This was a slightly different combination of flavors compared to other curries I’ve made in the past. I served it with rice and roshi.

The recipe for this is from Lonumedhu.

Roshi (Flatbread)

Roshi (Flatbread)

This is a simple flatbread that accompanies many meals in the Maldives. The dough is made from flour, vegetable oil, salt, and hot water. Then the dough is broken up into balls, and each one is rolled out and cooked on the stovetop.

Despite the simplicity, I love flatbreads like this! They are great when you want something bread-like to go with a curry or stew but don’t want to put in the time to make bread.

The recipe I used is from Maldives Cook.

  • Masroshi – a snack made by filling roshi dough with a mixture of tuna, coconut, chili, curry leaves, onions, garlic, ginger, and lime, then pan-frying. These are essentially just like mas huni wrapped in roshi.
  • Kulhi Boakibaa – fish cakes made from tuna, ground rice, onion, coconut, and various seasonings.
  • Dhonkeyo kajuru – deep-fried fritters made from banana mashed with coconut, flour, sugar, baking powder, and vanilla.
  • Dhon riha – a tuna and coconut milk curry seasoned with a range of spices including curry leaves, cardamom, cinnamon, and garlic.

Final Thoughts

This was another good week! My favorite dish was the kukulhu riha, with the bis keemiya as the runner-up.

Next week, I will be cooking food from Mali.

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