The de rigeur location for luxury spas are over the ocean, but OBLU by Atmosphere at Helengeli shows how distinctive you can make your spa setting over a different kind of water. They have developed a little spa oasis with rich greenery and seating cabanas set around a tranquil lily pond. One of the best renditions of the Zen garden concept of Seijaku (静寂) – a tranquility or an energized calm, stillness, solitude.
Best of the Maldives: Peru/Japan Fusion – LUX North Male Atoll
Fusion is a fun way to blend diverse flavours and culinary traditions for exciting new tastes, but LUX North Male Atoll’s INTI restaurant is probably the most diverse combo we have come across – Japanese and Peruvian.
Before you think someone just threw a couple of darts at a map, it turns out that Japan and Peru have a longstanding cultural connection. Peru was the first Latin American country to have diplomatic relations with Japan in 1873. At the end of Peru’s War of the Pacific in 1884, the Chinese worker population had been greatly reduced and there was big demand for farming labour. Then when the First Sino-Japanese War ended in 1895, the Japanese economy was crippled and young farmers started looking overseas for opportunities. Rumours of gold, mild climate, rich soil and similar seafood cuisine added to the allure and influx.
LUX describes the establishment: “Savour octopus with black olive mayo, Tiradito breads and smoky guacamole – or take in a five-course fresh fish Cerviche tasting. Sip on an iced Peruvian beer, warm sake or Pisco sour as the smells and sounds of Peru and Japan stir the sensory feast.” We enjoyed a sumptuous meal which did meld the delicate traditions of Japanese sushi with bolder flavoured ingredients like the purple maki (see above).
The name “INTI” is the name of the Inca sun god. The décor of the dining area is a collection of suns – fusing the icon of sun god, “Land of the Rising Sun” and, of course, the Maldives’ own sun-infused splendour (where modern day sun worshippers flock).
Best of the Maldives: Kimono – Joali
If you want to get dressed up for Japan Day today, then Joali provides elegant his and hers kimonos in every room. Accompanied by matching rattan Japanese sandals, they were designed South African designer Admore.
Best of the Maldives: Maldivian Tepanyaki – Makunudu
Grill stations at buffets are often pretty standard fare. And Japanese-style Tepanyaki grills, that inject a bit of show into the prep, can be found at a good number of properties. But we were enchanted by what is probably best described as “Maldivian Tepanyaki” at Makunudu’s Maldivian Night. The chef was preparing “Maldivian Flat Bread Strings”, itself a dish I had never sampled in twenty years of coming to the Maldives.
The chef chops flat breads into very thin “strings” and fries them on the grill. Then some veg and spices are tossed on…with more rhythmic chopping. Finally, the whole mixture is topped with a fish or chicken. It was delicious and all prepared with a rhythmic show.
Best of the Maldives: Wishing Tree – Ayada
Wish trees are found in many traditions, but one of the most prominent is the Japanese O-mikuji (literally “sacred lot”). Wishes are written on small strips of paper and hung in a tree. They can be hung directly on branches (or other frame) or inserted into a small container for safe keeping. My parents presented us with a Wish Tree at our pre-wedding celebration party where guest wrote wishes for the betrothed couple and hung them on decorated branches. Ayada has introduced this tradition with the romantic twist of placing the wishes in tiny, heart-shaped glass bottles (thanks Paola). So if you want your Valentines wishes to last forever, you can give your love a message in a bottle on a tropical island.
Best of the Maldives: Breakfast Sashimi Bar – Sun Siyam Irufushi
If you want to celebrate today’s national day of the land of the Rising Sun straight from the rise of the sun, then Sun Siyam Irufushi offers a fresh a Sashimi Bar at its breakfast buffet. Our Japan blogging son Chase (chip off the old block) would have loved this option. He savours Japanese culture, adores sushi and sashimi, and ordered it the most often when we visited the Maldives as a family. The profusion of fresh fish in the neighbourhood make this culinary favourite a treat the whole day long.
Best of the Maldives: Fruit Sushi – Soneva Fushi
Another adaption of a Japanese staple is Soneva Fushi’s fruit sushi. Kiwi, papaya, strawberry, all raw and cut as masterfully as any sushi chef, set on a base of sweet coconut rice.
Fresh Fushi Frushi!
Best of the Maldives: Indian Tempura – Velaa
Lori’s not a big fan of sushi, so when we go eat Japanese (which with our son Chase’s interest in Japan is not that uncommon), she always opts for the tempura. And it is one of my favourite dishes as well. Fried food without the heaviness of most western fry-ups because the rice flour lightens the batter. While originally a staple of Japanese fare, it’s made its way onto the tables of other cuisines (our local Thai serves a delightful tempura squid). But despite two decades of travelling to the Indian Ocean, I had never sampled Indian Tempura until our visit to Velaa. And not only was it something new, it was something exquisite. The “Indian” style adds turmeric to the batter, which is a bit firmer. And the item was “Soft Shell Crab with Tamarind Chutney” ($38) which was a distinctive fare in any style.
As it happens, this recipe was featured at another resort, Coco Bodu Hithi’s gourmet extravaganza “Savour 2015”, gut this was a one off event.
Best of the Maldives: Sake – One & Only Reethi Rah
Possibly your vegetarian fare includes lots of rice. And maybe that rice is just a bit fermented. In fact, maybe it’s sake. Yes, that counts for international Vegetarian Day today. But if that seems a bit of a stretch, then you can just raise your ochoko and toast world Sake Day.
For the finest sake in the Maldives, One & Only Reethi Rah offers a broad selection of the finest labels presented by Yoshina (above). But it also features its very own special “house” sake. The ‘Junmai Dai-Gingo’ (see above) uses long process where 7 different blends of rice polished to a small pin point.
(“Kanpai” – traditional Japanese toast meaning “Dry the glass”)
Best of the Maldives: Japanese Restaurant – Adaaran Vadoo
And another Happy Birthday…today to the Emperor of Japan.
To celebrate, it’s time for another doff of the kabuto once again to all things Japanese in the Maldives, Adaaran Vadoo. This time, in this season that puts the ‘feast’ into ‘festive’, it is the Kitajima restaurant. Many resorts feature Japanese fare like sushi and tempura and some even have full fledged Japanese restaurants. But none as extensive and authentic as Kitajima. The materials used in building the restaurant, supplies used in preparing the dishes (except for the hyper-fresh seafood), and the staff straight from Japan (including the manageress who has been there since the opening).
“Adaraan Prestige Vadhoo is unique in the Maldives to offer a Japanese specialty restaurant. For those wishing a change of taste and scene you can try traditional Japanese meals ranging from fresh sushi to succulent tempura at the Kithajima restaurant. Our staffs have had many years of training and experience in the preparation of Japanese cuisine and will endeavour to prepare your selections to suit your preferences. Traditional Japanese favourites ranging from edamame and spring rolls to sushi, tempura and sashimi served with specially made sauces and accompaniments are just some of the dishes on offer to satisfy your cravings. Only the freshest of seasonal sea food and best ingredients are used in the preparation of the dishes. Many Japanese beers and Sake is available to enhance the dining experience.”