Part of the adventure of an exotic holiday can be the exotic dining that goes with it. First timers to the Maldives will relish the fresh reef fish, local curries and irresistibly fresh tropical fruit. But for longer stays or Maldives aficionado regular visitors, even that can get a bit repetitive. So the top resorts mix it up a bit with some more creative culinary options. When I treat myself to a meal out, I try to choose dishes that I can’t easily make for myself at home (so I avoid the simple dishes and go for the more unusual).
One example of esoteric eatery is LUX North Male Atoll’s Peruvian/Japanese fusion restaurant INTI and their signature dish “ceviche”. Ceviche is a South American dish of marinated seafood (eg. prawn, octopus), but INTI has extended it in fusion style to Wagyu Beef, vegetables and other ingredients. It is served with a range of sauces (eg. chimichu mushroom, rocoto chili spice, corn, beef au jus, huancaina yella chili). And if you have trouble deciding from their extensive selection, you can have a smorgasbord of a tasting platter including such delicacies as:
- · Fish – white fish, tiger milk, raspberry, sorbet
- · Octopus – Peruvian chili, smoked yellow paper sauce
- · Tuna – Nikkei sauce, sesame oil, tuna, cucumber
- · Prawns – Passion fruit sorbet, coconut milk infusion, mango, soft shell crab
- · Salmon – Avocado, red onion, tiger milk
- · Scallop – Orange tiger milk, red onion, yellow chili
Two of the most popular tastes on the High Street – Thai and Italian – combined for a super fusion of flavours. Mr Tom Yam’s at SAii Lagoon blends the exotic with the classic, the tropical with the Mediterranean, the Asian with the European. Some of our favourite dishes are Italian and Thai, so sampling them melded together was a special treat.
Sample dishes include:
- Khaopad Hed Porcini: Italian mushrooms fried risotto, tomato, onion, kale, and cashew nuts with fried egg
- Maplaow Goong Risotto: Spicy coconut risotto with lime shrimp, mushroom, tomato, lime leaves and galangal.
- Baa Mee Noodles Moo Carbonara: Egg noodles stir fried with bacon and deep-fried pork, marinated in a dark sweet soy sauce, egg yolk, coriander leaves and parmesan cheese.
- Piiza Tom Yam Tale: Mozarella, tomato sauce, tom yam stir fried assorted seafood, kaffir lime leaves, chili, cherry tomato and mushroom.
- Pannacotta Kink Somo: Creamy ginger flan with pomelo.
Khao Pad Tom Yam Heng Arrancini
Today is official “Don’t Go To Work Unless It’s Fun Day” (no joke). But for most of the world during the pandemic, every day is “Don’t Go To Work Unless You Are a Key Worker Day”. The world is getting on top of the coronavirus scourge by reducing its transmission until vaccines, treatments and testing is more widely available. That has meant all the resorts rightfully shutting down. So instead of visiting the real thing, people are having to settle for the digital, virtual equivalents with screen time skyrocketing.
While the Maldives geotag is dominated by fashionistas in swimsuits, one of the most common subjects on Instagram is photographing your food. If you are staying at Faarufushi, you won’t be able to resist a post yourself if you dine at Lagoon (the resort’s Asian tapas restaurant) and feast your eyes (and your Followers’ eyes) on one of Mohamed Adil striking dishes. And if you don’t have your camera, then you can repost one of Adil’s pictures on his very on fleek feed.
Hotelier Maldives featured a profile on him earlier this year. Hotel Asia’s Best Maldivian chef 2018 described his background, “Art was something I always saw when I was growing up. Mostly paintings by my dad, but I never thought of art on a plate and that’s where I found myself.” His mentor Executive Sous Chef Bir Kumar Yadav first worked together at Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru where he started as a kitchen steward. From there he has skyrocketed in the culinary world to recently winning the Gold Medal in the Dubai World Summit. Here is his story in his own words:
- What atoll are you from? – Born in Ari Atoll, located towards the west of the archipelago, brought up in Seenu Atoll (Addu Atoll).
- What was the first dish you ever cooked for someone else? – I clearly remember the first dish that I cooked for my executive chef as a practical exam. It was a grilled chicken breast with homemade crispy fries, sautéed peppers and hollandaise sauce.
- What’s your favourite unsung ingredient? – Unsung ingredient would be cumin as Ground Cumin has a very distinctive flavor with an earthy, nutty, spicy taste with a somewhat bitter undertone and a warm, penetrating aroma with hints of lemon.
- What’s your signature Maldivian dish? – Coming to a signature Maldivian dish would be something I created back in 2019 for a culinary challenge. The dish had various components and all of them are favourites to many locals. A fillet of red snapper grilled over coconut coal, breadfruit curry, tempered banana blossom with smoked tuna, fried moringa leaves, fried onion tuile served with a savory doughnut.
- What has been your most ambitious dish? – My most ambitious dish was one that I made for a culinary challenge. I knew that I wanted to go with beef and the rest was unclear. So I took a piece of paper and wrote down all the things that would go well with beef. Then I started crossing out the ingredients until I got the perfect combination. First I worked on perfecting the taste. Then I moved on to the presentation of the dish. The whole process took me over 30 attempts to create the dish which consisted of Wagyu striploin paired with cylinder of potato fondant filled with wild mushroom duxelle, decorated with shimiji mushrooms, onion flan, sweet unagi, garlic sautéed baby spinach, tea smoked cauliflower puree, black garlic jell and a rich veal jus.
- Has there been any memorable failures where something you tried didn’t work? – Looking back, there would have been many failures. Some dishes were not executed to the standard that I wanted to bring out. However, I kept working on perfecting those dishes and that practice is what brought out the ability in me to a higher level. I don’t consider them to be failures but as something that I can learn and gain from for the future.
- What was the best advice you’ve received as a chef? – The best advice that I got is not to constantly look at the working hours and the amount of pay and instead to keep looking at the blood and sweat as a stepping stone to greatness.
- If you could do your career over again, what would you do differently? – If I could redo my career all over again, I would start it as soon as I could. Until I was 19 years of age, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. If I had known sooner, I could have taken a more scientific focus throughout my studies in school as cooking and science goes closely together. I wish I knew what my career was going to be so that I could have prepared to start my career beforehand.
Adil is definitely someone who loves his job and let’s hope he can resume working it as soon as possible.
Paradise on a platter!
We always describe the Maldives to people who have never been as “that iconic image of a plot of sand with a palm tree…1000 of those!” The diminutive sandy dots in the middle of mill pond still lagoons provides an intimacy with a gently inviting ocean. When we first visited, the resorts all sequestered us into dining rooms at mealtime. Eventually we asked if we could move our table out onto the beach by the water and they were happy to oblige. By the end of the week, a bunch of other diners had followed our lead and joined us under the stars with the mini waves lapping nearby.
These days all resort understand the charm of beach dining and offer a number of seating areas on the sand close to the water. But no standard dining venue (as opposed to specialty beach dining experiences) get you closer to the water than Shangri-La Villingili’s Javvu restaurant. Partly this proximity is due to a bit of erosion that has brought the water closer to the dining as much as the dining has approached the water. The tables are all set under a canopy of shore lining palms to that cosying up the seaside experience.
The ecological impacts of what you eat affects both the surf and turf of your dinner plate. Beef cattle methane flatulence is a major contributor of global carbon which contributes to ocean warming which kills coral. Concern over beef consumption has led to many initiatives to take the beef out of the most classic beef dish of all – the burger. Even mainstream chains like Burger King have introduced vegan versions like its “Impossible Whopper”. In the Maldives, LUX South Ari Atoll has introduced its own vegan “beef” burger
- “Embraced by leading brands, tech companies and major news media, the plant-based protein, formally known as ‘Beyond Burger™’ is now available at three of the resort’s eight restaurants to provide additional vegan and kosher options.”
Inspired by LUX’s culinary carbon-reducing crusade, I found myself trying my first vegan burger yesterday in London. It was a Avocado Chipotle Burger by the UK chain, Leon’s. Admittedly, my expectations were pretty low, but I must say that they were handily exceeded. Eating it, you realise that the taste of a “burger” is a real collection of tastes – bun, condiments, lettuce, charcoal grilling. So getting a patty of something that is remotely evocative of a burger in texture and even some flavour make the whole sandwich a pretty close facsimile to the original. But with much less impact on the coral reefs you are enjoying during your stay.
For the squinting crowd whose arms are not long enough to hold a menu far away enough to see it, the romance of under-the-stars candlelight might add to the romance, but it also means you can’t figure out what you can order for dinner. Resorts have come up with a various solutions to this problem including the fiddly clip-on mini light or the serve holding a torch. But Faarufushi has introduced electronic menu tablets with soft back lighting to provide optimal visibility.
Sometimes you are the one polluted by toxins Joali features its own ingestible cure with a wide range of breakfast elixirs served in the breakfast buffet. The Ayurvedic tonics treat a variety of conditions including:
- Aches & Pain
- Purification Blood
- Liver Tonic
No matter how many toppings or how exotic the flavours, I have not come across any item on the menu as exotic as You & Me’s underwater restaurant H2O – plankton! More for a whale shark’s palette than appetite as it was presented in an eye-dropper bottle as part of the seafood platter. You sprinkle the “plankton” on the delicacies for that extra bit of taste of the sea. It didn’t really taste of anything other than just some seawater, but I guess that for mantas and other filter feeders, to them its all just sea water to them too. Something small (actually microscopic) before the big feast of Thanksgiving tomorrow.
Forget Book of the Month Club or Employee of the Month plaques, I want the Ice Cream of the Month subscription thank you. Just another ice cream extravagance at Soneva (both Soneva Fushi and Soneva Jani) as Maldives Insider reported at its launch last year:
- “Soneva is developing 10 new and unique flavours at Soneva Fushi, Soneva Jani and Soneva Kiri, for a total of 30 flavours. These flavours are only available for the next 12 months, after which time they will change. This is in addition to the regular rotating roster of flavours at each resort. Guests at Soneva Fushi’s So Cool will get to sample new flavours such as: Soneva Bread Fruit and Maldivian Pine Nuts, Strawberry, Aged Balsamic and Green Olives, and Curry Leaves and Sweet Mango. While at Soneva Jani’s So Cool, Yuka with Garden Basil, Seaweed, and Caramelised Young Coconut join the classic ice creams and sorbets. Soneva will also be introducing one new flavour each month inspired by that month’s Festival of Colour theme.”
Buffets are part of the fabric of Maldives resorts, but I’ve never come across an ice cream buffet like LUX North Male Atoll sundae counter at its ICI ice cream parlour. It took me back to perhaps my earliest memory of personalised, decadent taste treats – Putnam Pantry. Back in the 70s, we would make the half hour drive to “make your own sundae” and their ice cream smorgasbord which was the ultimate treat or birthday party. But, not surprisingly, LUX surpassed even the American penchant for excess with 18 flavours of ice cream, 6 sauces, 8 toppings and a range of other accessory treats.