Takeaway

Being vegetarian in the Maldives

Khursheed Dinshaw | Updated on January 20, 2021

Good morning, Maldives: A vegetarian breakfast platter   -  IMAGES: KHURSHEED DINSHAW

Forget the tuna. The island nation will keep you full and happy with coconut, koftas and jasmine

* At the table next to mine, I watched a Delhi-based family enjoy the flavours of the mugu soup, prepared with yellow lentils, raw mango, curry leaves and coconut milk

* For those who love a whiff of jasmine in their tea, the flowers are added to the water when the tea is being prepared

* A turtle kept me company till my stomach rumbled to indicate that it was ready for breakfast

****

Sitting under a starlit sky, I happily removed the flip-flops to run my feet through the powdery white sand. The Indian Ocean was literally a stone’s throw away and the waxing moon hung tantalisingly close to its waters. Dressed in a traditional Maldivian sarong — which was tied to my waist as I entered Kaagé, the restaurant that was my dinner venue that November night — I felt strangely content with all the beauty away from the dining table. But a Maldivian meal was in the offing and I expected it to be equally enticing.

While fish is at the centre of the Maldivian food universe, I was going to sample the cuisine’s vegetarian side — which is ruled by dishes prepared with coconut (kurumba in Dhivehi, the local language), millets and tubers. The meal commenced with breadfruit or bambukeyo starters along with a couple of snacky items made with sweet potato and yam. I alternated every bite with snatches of conversation with my fellow diners — a couple who had flown in from Dubai for their wedding anniversary.

At the table next to mine, I watched a Delhi-based family enjoy the flavours of the mugu soup, prepared with yellow lentils, raw mango, curry leaves and coconut milk. Just like the fish (tuna, especially), the coconut, too, is synonymous with food of the Maldives. And it graces the dishes in various forms. Coconut milk — kaashi kiru — is added to curries and soups while grated coconut goes into stir fries and desserts.

The cool evening breeze was an apt accompaniment to the palate-pleasing kopee fathu satani. A vegetable salad, its star ingredient is chard leaves. Finely chopped, these are served with sliced onions, passion fruit and blue cheese. Eaten for both lunch and dinner, the salad came with roshi, a flatbread similar to the roti.

The other dish that reminded me of food back in India was a dish that the chefs at Kaagé call ‘vegetable spheres’ — kofta-like balls made with, well, vegetables, coconut milk and pandan leaves and eaten with steamed rice. Desserts in the island nation are a delicious mix of condensed milk, castor sugar and flavoured water (rose or jasmine) — simple but comforting. I learnt that the saagu bondibai (sago pudding) is a popular Friday lunch feature.

The other popular sweet dish — pirini — is the Maldivian cousin of the rice kheer from the subcontinent. The Kaagé version, created by Chef Niyaz, had pandan leaves, along with jasmine water, and cinnamon and cardamom powders. This dish, too, is eaten on Fridays.

The maafuh is a dessert that is eaten at the onset of Ramadan. It is a delicious combination of finger millet powder that is roasted with bananas. And then topped with fresh grated coconut and palm syrup. It made for a fitting finale to the dinner, after which I could barely do anything other than walking back to my villa.

A local breakfast had been lined up for the morning and I needed all the energy — and room in the stomach — for the same.

The famed Maldivian sunrise found me at the wooden deck of the villa, admiring a lone baby reef shark swimming in the turquoise waters. After his departure, a turtle kept me company till my stomach rumbled to indicate that it was ready for breakfast. The buggy drove me on white-sand pathways to the breakfast venue called Lime & Chilli.

Maldivians like to begin the day with roshi and a tuna salad called mashuni. Fret not. The vegetarian version eliminates the tuna; it is grated coconut that is tossed with lime, fried leaves and diced onion. Maldivian green chillies notch up the spice quotient.

I savoured my breakfast gazing at the myriad hues of the Indian Ocean while sipping black tea, just the way it is had in Maldives. For those who love a whiff of jasmine in their tea, the flowers are added to the water when the tea is being prepared. For those who enjoy their tea sweetened with a subtle jasmine flavour, the flowers are put in the sugar jar and left for a day or two before the sugar is added to the tea.

Either way, the fragrance will find its way to your stay in the Maldives

Khursheed Dinshaw is a Pune-based freelance writer-photographer.

Travel Log

 

Getting there

There are direct flights to Male, the capital of the Maldives, from several Indian metros.

Stay

VARU by Atmosphere (varu-atmosphere.com/) is a luxury resort in the North Male Atoll.

BLink Tip

Relish a floating breakfast in the pool of your villa overlooking the Indian Ocean.

Published on January 17, 2021

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