Pina Perfection

Perfect Pina Colada

Coconut Full Moon tonight. The perfect time to toast that essence of equatorial elixir – pina colada.

Maldives is not my only tropical love. I am also an epicurean devotee of the pina colada. It is my tropical cocktail. I only really drink it in the Maldives because I do believe that ambience and context is as much a part of an exceptional drink experience as the drink itself. Like port with cigars and cards. Or Pimms at one of The Season events. I have occasional sampled pina coladas when I am at establishments renowned for their mixology just to explore their spin on this classic. But the experience is more clinical and investigative than my sensual savouring in the Maldives.

My pina passion has reached a higher profile as a part of my annual Maldives Tour posts to the Trip Advisor Maldives Forum. I post a daily thumbnail sketch of each resort highlighting things like the weather, my favourite dish, snorkel spottings. And I include a headline assessment of the resort’s pina colada.

For me the pina colada is as iconic a tropical drink as the Maldives is a tropical destination. And it can be an emblematic indicator for the resort overall. It’s complicated and varied enough that the resort’s own quality of ingredients, attention to detail, creativity, flair and even personality can shine though in this little alcoholic microcosm. You can have foamy vs. flat, shaken vs. blended, iced vs. chilled, not to mention a range of ingredient variations (eg. coconut cream, coconut milk, coconut flavouring). And it can be presented in simple tall glasses with a sprig or garnish to coconut shells with a cornucopia of fruit and frills.

Last year, the epicenter of all things coconut, Kurumba resort, rose to the “Pina Colada Challenge” with an unprecedented flurry of pina colada artistry on the occasion of my visit. The exceptional evening got me questioning my first principles. With all of the options and variations, what was I looking for in the “perfect pina colada”. That led to a bit more “research” and now my own recipe and guidance for the quintessential pinoconut concoction.

FUNDAMENTALS – What are my basic principles for the ultimate pina colada?

  • TemperatureFrozen. This is the counterfoil to the sun drenched tropics. You are melting away in the warmth and so part of the experience is the frigid coldness of the drink. The best pina colada is the coldest pina colada. Some tips to achieving this frigorific chill…
    • Store all of the ingredients in the freezer. Including the rum and the glass along with frozen coconut cream and pineapple juice. Note that you will need to freeze the coconut cream and pinapple juice in small chunks or cubes in order for them to blend effectively on mixing.
    • Serve in a “stem” glass so the hand does not warm the drink while holding it.
  • ThingsFresh. Fresh, top shelf ingredients should be a given, but I am always surprised at how many top resorts try to get by with inferior ingredients.
    • Fresh pineapple juice. Not from a can or concentrate (which almost always has added sugar).
    • Coconut cream (not coconut milk, coconut flavouring, or pina colada mix)
    • Top quality white rum. Not the cheap stuff. Not dark rum.
  • TextureFine. Another bad bit are…the bits. Yes, it is a “style” thing. Much like the difference between the more finely textured Parisian bisque as opposed to the more rustic and thicker Normady bisque. The pulp might seem to add to the appearance of freshness, but the mouth feel distracts from the focus on the flavours and the frozenness.

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 parts Coconut Cream – (not Coconut Milk, it’s too thin and not coconutty enough)
  • 4 parts fresh Pineapple Juice – (not pulpy, see above on Texture)
  • 2 parts White Rum – (not flavoured)
  • 1 part medium sugar syrup (3:4 ratio of sugar to water)

Despite many classic recipes call for it, I first tried to avoid the Sugar Syrup ingredient. I thought one could get the desired sweetness with the pineapple juice and even the coconut cream would contribute a bit. However, in depth experimentation showed that the syrup really helped to smooth out and mellow the final product in a way no other balancing could (without sacrificing the rum kick). If getting or making the sugar syrup is just a step too far, then actually using Malibu Rum (the exception to the “not flavoured Rum” rule) provides the same sweetness and some of the mellowing effect (but unfortunately does introduce a distinctly “artificial” or even “chemically” tinge).

Also notice NO ICE. Ice just waters down the drink and interferes with the smooth sipping. The frozen ingredients provide all the frigidity that you need (and more than shaking over ice will ever do).

Perhaps the key objective here is balance.  You don’t want any individual ingredient overpowering the flavour.  You want all of the tastes to blend harmoniously.

RUMS

  • Baccardi Carta Blanca Superior White Rum – The classic and default option.
  • Brugal Especial Extra Dry Rum – The premium option for smoothness and distinction (“clean, dry rum which contains fewer of the heavy alcohols which tend to provide other rums a sweeter flavour profile. The Especial Extra Dry is blended from a mix of rum spirits which have been aged a minimum of 2 years and up to as many as 5 years in White American Oak casks. The rum is triple charcoal filtered, and was developed as a high-end cocktail spirit”).
  • Malibu Caribbean Rum with Coconut Flavour – The oft-resorted to shortcut for coconut and sweetness boost.

DIRECTIONS

Blend ingredients until smooth. Not too little so that it is lumpy. Not too much that it overly thaws the drink. Depending on the type of blender you have, you might want to pre-crush the frozen coconut cream as this can freeze quite solidly.

GARNISH

You can let your inner Carmen Miranda go crazy if you like, but there is only one classic garnish – a skewered Maraschino cherry and pineapple slice perched on the edge of the glass. Some say the cherry is dated and even twee, but I guess I am just too old school.  And no straw! The drink needs to be sipped from the glass like a fine wine. Straws are mostly for drinks with ice (see note above on “no ice”).

The Guardian has also published their pina perfection path “How to make the perfect piña colada”. It’s an okay recipe. I’m against the use of ice for a truly “perfect” pina, but I understand how it is an expedient way to achieve coldness. And the piece provides some in depth perspectives on some of the dynamics of the drink.

Happy Hour Coconut Moon everyone!

(special thanks to our friends Wayne and Lucille who contributed as research assistants in the methodical lab testing)

 

Best of the Maldives: Pina Colada Variety – Kurumba

Kurumba - Pina Colada samples

One of the highlights of our summer tour this year was a pageant of a different sort. Less appealing to the sense of vision and more enticing the other senses of smell, taste and texture feel. The first ever “Pina Colada Off”.

When I tour the Maldives, there are a few non-negotiables in the itinerary. I must get a shot of us in front of the resort sign. I must snorkel every house reef (I’ve even jumped in during a few quite rough seas at times just to get a look at the seascape below). And I must sample the resort’s pina colada.

The pina colada is the iconic tropical drink. And like port with cigars and cards, or schnaps on the ski slopes, there is something that makes it irresistible in this setting. I rarely have pina coladas outside the Maldives (and when I do, it never tastes as good).

For me, the pina colada is a very useful acid test for a resort. It is complex enough that there are quite a range of possibilities in both style and quantity (more on the pina colada drink itself in a future post). I started including my “Pina Colada Test” assessments as a part of the Tour highlights reports posted on the TripAdvisor Maldives Forum. And frequent Forum Contributor, GM Jason Kruse, felt that the gauntlet had been laid down and he was not going to take this colada challenging lying down (even if it was on a lying down on a deck chair under the tropical sun with the water lapping inches away).

This virtual drinks derby was a point of pride for Kurumba. The resort whose very name embodies the coconut essence of the colada. So Jason’s Beverage Manager Courtney Hendrick (far right picture above) organised the first ever “Pina Colada Off” for out visit and served as our effervescent mistress of ceremonies.

And a lavish affair it was. In all my years as a pina colada aficionado, I have never experienced such imaginative and well-crafted coconut cocktails. The judging was intense with Craig Revel Horwood levels of scrutiny and discernment.

Bandara won “Best All Arounder” (he prides himself on his pina colada). Rohan’s was the “Coldest” (a criteria as important to me as heel leads are to Len Goodman), and Oliver was the “Most Inventive” (always an exceptional kudo here on Maldives Complete).

I think they are all definitely contenders for some of the top pina coladas in the Maldives. Not sure I have enough data points to crown any of theirs the absolutely #1 (also, an amazing one I had at Constance Halaveli haunts me). But their inventiveness and variations on the theme is unmatched completely.

It turns out that Courtney and Jason held their own not-so-dry run the day before and this is what Courteney reported…

“I was brand new to Kurumba and upon receiving an email of [Maldives Complete’s] expected arrival I decided to challenge all those willing to participate (those I had met and some I had not yet met) to come up with their very best version of the all-time island classic the Pina Colada. I cannot begin to describe how blown away I was by all team members who participated, their creativity and determination to not only produce their best Pina Colada but also to win the challenge was simply astonishing. However, Jason, Morgan, Ross and I had to make the very tough decision (I know hard life right!) which Pina Colada’s do we present? We decided on 3: Bandara’s, Oliver’s and Rohan’s. I chose Oliver’s Pina Colada as the tops because I was so impressed with his thinking behind the making of his Pina Colada. When Oliver got behind the bar the first thing he said was ‘A Pina Colada should be consistent from beginning to end it should not separate…’ and thus the most creative and inspiring Pina Colada was born!”

Kurumba has been gracious enough to share their recipes for anyone dying to sample these delightful variations (add your own palm trees, sunsets and turquoise seascape):

  • Bandara’s: Athiri Bar Supervisor and Pina Colada Extraordinaire!!!
    • Ingredients: 30mls Coconut cream, 30mls Monin Coconut Puree, 30mls Malibu, 30mls Appleton’s White Rum, 90mls Pineapple juice (half fresh half concentrate).
    • Method: Blend all ingredients without ice in a blender, FILL Pocco Grande glass with large cubes of ice and pour over.
    • Garnish: Slice of pineapple and a cherry.
  • Oliver’s: Brand New Bartender to Kurumba
    • Ingredients: 5x Cubes fresh pineapple, 30mls Coconut cream, 3x Ice cream scoops of house-made Coconut Sorbet, 30mls Malibu, 30mls Appleton’s White Rum, 30mls Monin Coconut Puree.
    • Method: Blend pineapple chunks in a blender to create a finer texture. Add all other ingredients without ice to the blender and blend for 1 minute. FILL Pilsner glass and garnish.
    • Garnish: Slice of pineapple and a cherry.
  • Rohan’s: Long standing Bartender and Shaker Extraordinaire.
    • Ingredients: 10 grams Fresh pineapple, 30mls Coconut cream, 30mls Malibu, 30mls Appleton’s White Rum, 60mls Pineapple juice
    • Method: Muddle 10grms of pineapple in a Boston glass. Add all remaining ingredients to the shaker, shake and strain over ice in a Highball glass.
    • Garnish: Slice of pineapple and a cherry.

Have a Kurumba Krimbo!

Best of the Maldives: Coconut Bar – LUX* Maldives

LUX Maldives coconut bar

If you would like to be treated like a god(dess) on Coconut Full Moon weekend (or any other day of the year), then one of LUX Maldives’ omnipresent surprises is a ‘Coconut Bar’ where fresh coconut is provided for passing guests. Just about all resorts have some worker who will retrieve a fresh coconut for you and prepare it, but at LUX’s Coconut Bar, it is already prepared for you to sample this tropical treat offering.

Best of the Maldives: Coconut Beer – Kurumba

Kurumba - coconut beer

Coconut Full Moon today. Of all of the special “moons”, the Coconut Full Moon must be the most apropos to the Maldives. And of all the Maldives resorts, the eponymous Kurumba – which means “Coconut” in Dhivehi – is the most apropos to toast it. Kurumba offers a number of coconut specialties including its recently introduced, “Mongozo”, coconut beer. It is brewed in nearby Sri Lanka using normal processes but with a touch of coconut essence. Truly exotic brew.

Full moons have a number of colloquial names around the world. In the subcontinental region, the Coconut Full Moon is actually a cause for celebration, in particular the Coconut Day festival or “Narali Purnima” takes place in coast communities on the Indian Ocean to thank the sea God for calm waters…

“Nariyal Purnima, also known as the Coconut Full Moon, is celebrated with great merriment in many states of western India. Nariyal Purnima falls in the month of Shravana Purnima, which symbolises the end of monsoon season, and marks the beginning of the new fishing season for the fishermen as they avoid going into waters before this. Post festival, monsoon starts to recede; the sky becomes clear and the sea calm, as the tides too recede. All this makes fishing in the seas easy and safe. Therefore, the festival is very significant for the fishing community which is completely dependent on the sea for its livelihood. On this occasion, the sea god Varuna is worshipped and his blessings are sought; people offer coconuts to the sea as a symbol of thanksgiving.”

“The fishermen celebrate this festival by adorning their boats and putting flags on them, painting the coconuts and taking them to the sea to offer them to the God Varuna with prayers for bountiful fish catch and to protect them from all the risks and allowing them to sail safely…Thus, this time of happiness is rejoiced in the community gathering by singing and dancing in groups. As a coconut has three eyes, it is believed that it represents Lord Shiva and this is why it is considered an auspicious offering to the holy deity. In addition to this, it is believed that, it is the purest offering which is available on the earth and also, the water and the kernel inside it are considered to be pure. Coconut is broken in front of the divine beings as a mark of respect and also to take their blessings before setting off on to a new fishing season. The pieces of the broken coconut are given as prasad and the delicacy prepared during this festive time is coconut rice.”

The increasing ‘clear sky’ and ‘calm sea’, is something that all visitors can appreciate. So raise a glass of purest Mongozo!

 

Kurumba - Mongozo cocnut beer

Best of the Maldives: Coconut Arrack – Bathala

Bathala Arrack

 

This week’s posts have all been in the spirit of coconut, so why not end the week with its very essence. Most resorts will carry some sort of obligatory coconut spirit. Typically, Malibu Rum for inclusion in the ubiquitous pina coladas (my favourite tropical cocktail). But if you want the authentic taste of the Indian Ocean, the “Old Arrack” is a something a bit more distinctive produced locally in Sri Lanka. The only time I have come across it is at Bathala who include it in their AI selection.

Best of the Maldives: Coconut Waffles – Vilamendhoo

Vilamendhoo coconut waffles

Waffle, waffle, waffle! There’s a day for everything, it seems, and today happens to be Waffle Day (a Swedish tradition).

I always wonder why more resorts don’t add a touch of the exotic to ordinary dishes. Which is why when I like to fuss over the exotic soupcon added to the soup, or the delicate tropical ingredient added to the delicacy.

One example is Vilamendhoo’s coconut waffles. All resorts have a breakfast buffet and most serve have a pancake and waffle station. Just a touch of coconut turned Vila’s from an ordinary offering to an extraordinary extra.

Läcker!

Best of the Maldives: Asian Fusion Dessert – Ayada

Ayada - coconut milk and water chestnut dessert

One of my all time favourite coconut delicacies is the “Tub Kim Krob” served at Ayada’s Kai restaurant. Kai serves gourmet Asian fusion food to rival Anatara’s memorable Geckos. Tub kim krob is the simplest of dishes – basically coconut milk and water chestnut – and yet so divinely moreish. I struggle to find Asian desserts that I really savour (especially if you eliminate all the mango concoctions). But this dish I could eat again and again. And I wasn’t alone. Ayada Sales and Marketing Director Niclas Prokop had joined us and like most resort management accompanying us for dinner was pretty indifferent to what he had to eat (I’m sure he’s had everything on the menu many times). Except when it came to dessert. Then, there was no hesitation and he immediately put in an order for the tub kim krob. And the other staff with us echoed his request. So I definitely had to try some myself.

More like “YUM tim krob”!

Best of the Maldives: Coconut – Kurumba

Kurumba - coconut

 

 

Coconuts are synonymous with tropical paradise…and Kurumba is synonymous with everything coconut. “Kurumba” actually means “young coconut” (the green kind that you get coconut water from) in Dhivehi. Literally the signature resort for Cocos nucifera, Kurumba incorporates this eponymous omnipresence every part of your visit.

Your arrival on the island is greeted with cold cloths perfumed with coconut essence and a refreshing coconut sorbet. Every restaurant and bar features some creative coco-concoction. The Kandu bar serves a frozen Coconut Martini (coconut sorbet, coconut water, toasted coconut infused vodka), as well as a Coconut Mojito. They also make one of the best Pina Colada’s I’ve enjoyed in the Maldives (I’m a bit of a Pina Colada fan and make a point to have one at every resort I visit). The Café offers a distinctive Coconut French toast prepared with stewed mango, jack-fruit, pistachios and mascarpone.

As it happens, all of these coconut preparations are made with coconut from the island. Using the coconut is fairly obvious, but Kurumba also has the only press for making their own coconut oil. They take mature coconut (not a “Kurumba”), split it, remove the white fruit, shred it, dry it in the sun, and run it through the press. Upul, their resident Horticulturalist, demonstrated this process to me which produces 60-70 litres/month.

They not only use it in the kitchen, but also in their spa and even sell it in their shop and to other islands. The shop features the resort’s own “Coconut Flower” scent made in Sri Lanka and used in the room amenities as well.

Best of the Maldives: Pain Perdu – One & Only Reethi Rah

One and Only Reethi Rah french toast

 

 

Let them eat eggy bread! A toast to Bastille Day today.

I’m a bit of a breakfast aficionado. Most important meal of the day. My tastes range from the refined (eg. Eggs Benedict) to the profane (eg. grits with maple syrup). Lori makes a superb version with cinnamon and vanilla. Most resorts will have variation on ‘French Toast’ on their menu or buffet. But One & Only Reethi Rah’s was truly sublime. Coconut Banana Pain Perdu sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with whipped butter and a fruit coulis.

Magnifique!