The Maldives are made up of 1200 coral islands (the majority are uninhabited), which lie off the Indian subcontinent. Apart from fish and coconut, the Maldives imports most of its food. As you would expect from a collection of islands, the country is rich in fish and seafood of the highest quality.
The Maldives is an Islamic republic and alcohol is banned for the local Muslim population. However, the country’s economy is based primarily on tourism and most high-end hotels and resorts offer their guests a selection of international alcoholic drinks. In public, you will not see alcohol on sale, and visitors to the islands should remember that most locals don’t drink. Therefore, it’s polite not consume alcohol in public places.
Dining in the Maldives
The majority of hotels in the Maldives offer all-inclusive packages and have dining rooms that present international menus. Chinese, Italian, Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine is served in many resorts and top restaurants.
If you do want to explore the nearest city or town, you’ll find the menus are generally seafood based. Few restaurants are permitted to serve alcohol, though you may find the odd exception in the capital city of Male. Eating out in the Maldives is still fairly formal. You won’t find any hawkers or street food on the islands. Instead, dining is a strictly sit-down affair, and visitors can enjoy being waited on in one the many stunning waterfront venues.
Favoured drinks in the Maldives are tea and fruit juices. Mango and pineapple are popular, though dependent on the season. Tea is commonly drunk by the islanders and is readily available in most establishments.
Saj is a traditional sweet tea that’s a favourite of the locals. Raa is another native drink, which is made from the sap of palm trees and sometimes fermented, although not to alcoholic strength. The coconut tree is known as the tree of life in the Maldives. Its milk is drunk on its own or mixed with other juices to make a refreshing fruit cocktail.
Maldivian cuisine draws on influences from south Indian, particularly Kerala; and Sri Lankan traditional cookery. Dishes are hot and spicy and flavoured with coconut. Curry is known as riha and is served with rice or roshi, a type of unleavened bread.
Kukulhu riha is a chicken curry popular on the islands. It’s made by simmering the chicken in ginger, cardamom, garlic, chilli powder and other spices, before adding coconut milk towards the end of cooking. Maldivian vegetable curries are made in a similar way and use bashi (aubergine) and barabo (pumpkin) and green, unripe bananas.
Fishes of the islands
Over 2000 species of fish can be found in the Maldives archipelago. These include stingrays, moray eels and the huge whale shark, one of the largest fish species alive today.
Fishing remains the primary occupation of the people of the Maldives. Traditionally, the economy of the island was dependant on its fishing industry. So it’s no surprise that fish plays a significant part in the cuisine of the islands. Tuna, swordfish and octopus feature on most menus. A traditional meal is garudiya a clear fish broth served with side dishes of lime, chilli and onions.
One of the most commonly eaten curries is mas riha. This is a curry made from fresh local tuna. The fish is diced and cooked with fried onions and spices. Its left to simmer over a low heat before coconut milk is added at the end. Mas riha is usually eaten with steamed rice or roshi.
The snacks served in restaurants on the island are mostly fish based and deep fried. They comprise of dishes such as bajiyaa, which is a pastry stuffed with fish, coconut and onions. Keemia are deep-fried fish rolls; kulhi borkibaa are spicy fish cakes; and maroshi is a fish pancake.
For breakfast, mas huni is typically served. This is shredded smoked fish mixed with finely chopped onions, grated coconut and chilli.