Best of the Maldives: Milk Shakes – Finolhu

Finolhu - milk shakes

I am a bit of a milk shake (or “frappe” as they call them in New England where I grew up) connoisseur. The “Milk Shake Bar Kid” if you will. At university, my daily routine included a late night run to Brighams for *two* chocolate malted shakes (with an egg for extra protein and extra creaminess…I was doing lots of sport and this was a time before protein bars and smoothies). To this day, I make myself a milkshake at least once a week. The proper kind made with ice cream (the British have some weird things called “milk shakes” that are mostly literally milk shaken up).

I grew up enjoying soda fountain shakes at the local drugstore or “five and dime”. Shakes have made a bit of retro-resurgence with the rise of gastro-burger joints including the eponymous “Shake Shack”. So it was a charming trip down memory lane to stroll into Finolhu’s own “Milk Bar”. Of course, I had to go for the classic chocolate.

They do a range of smoothies and freezing cold drinks to slake the tropical thirst. They even offer a range of protein powders.

Damn right it’s better than yours.

Best of the Maldives: Customer-Centric Cocktails – Kuramathi

Kuramathi - customer cocktails

A good bartender can make just about anything the customer asks for, but the Kuramathi bartenders make drinks the customers invent. And keep on making them for other guests too. The resort held a cocktail concocting competition last year and the winning entries were (a) “Tropicana” by Elena from France, (b) “Speedbabe” by Andrew from England. As a part of their prize, their creations will be featured on the Kuramathi cocktail list for a year.

Best of the Maldives: Kombucha– LUX South Air Atoll

LUX South Ari Atoll - Kombucha

If you want more than just vitamins and minerals on the rocks in your health smoothie, then try a “Kombucha”, a variety of fermented, lightly effervescent sweetened black or green tea drinks. LUX South Ari Atoll makes its very own version:

  • Known as the ‘Immortal Health Elixir,’ we ferment our own variety of Kombucha ranging from black tea, green tea and coffee just to name a few and offering it to guest in our all-day dining restaurants as well as Spa.”

Kombucha is produced by fermenting the tea using a “symbiotic ‘colony’ of bacteria and yeast” (SCOBY). In other words, SCOBY Snack!

 

Best of the Maldives: Toddy – Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu

Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu - palm toddy

Christmas is just a few sleeps away and most of us are nestled by the fire accompanied by shot of hot toddy as the winter chill (first day of winter yesterday) hits the air. And just because you are spending your holidays in the sun-drenched tropics doesn’t mean you can’t also enjoy the sweet and spicy distilled delights of a toddy. Especially at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu which serves palm toddies (thanks Paola). In fact, they can be delivered to your door daily. The Christmas ‘spirit’ all year round!

Best of the Maldives: Cocktail Cascade – Club Med Kani / OZEN

 

On the other end of the cocktail complexity spectrum (right down the other end of the bat in fact) are the mixological masterpiece manoeuvres of Club Med Kani (above) and OZEN (below).

I raise my glass to your glass dropping!

Best of the Maldives: Kids Mocktail Making Class – Soneva Fushi

Soneva Fushi - mocktail class 1

Soneva Fushi’s world-class Den kids club features not just kiddie “cocktails”, but a class to let them ply their mixological mocktail mastery…

“The children attend a session at Ess, where they creativity is tested. The bar staff attempt to inspire the children showing them different ways to produce delicious mocktails, before the children are let loose to create they very own, including naming their cocktail. Each cocktail is scored and each child receives a certificate for all their creativity.”

A toast to children everywhere today on International Children’s Day!

Soneva Fushi - mocktail class 2

Best of the Maldives: Chinese Drinks – Shangri-La Villingili

Shangri-La Villingili - chinese wine

The Maldives are renowned for their legendary sunsets, but the night time celestial displays of stars and moon are equally as dazzling on the light-pollution free skies reflecting on the glass-like seas below. The full moon is always an occasion for a special celebration and tonight’s full moon marks the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival in particular.

The event is a time of coming together with friends and family for prayers of thanksgiving for the harvest bounty. Like the American Thanksgiving holiday, there is plenty of feasting and to compliment the cornucopia of foods, Shangri-La Villingili offers the most exceptional range of Chinese libations…

  • Baijiu (Chinese White Spirit) – Distilled.
    • MOU TAI (mao – tai) Produced in Guizhou, Southwest China. Often referred to as Chinese vodka. Distilled from sorghum. Unique because of ‘sauce-fragrance’. Alcohol degree from 53 to 35 (the higher, the more expensive). Official alcohol beverage in Chinese governments. Claims to be one of the three most famous liquors in the world, besides cognac and whiskey.
    • WU LIANG YE – Produced in Chengdu. Often known as the magic liquor of China. Purest, most authentic baijiu distiller. Complex with a fragrant peppery nose, soft and mellow on the palate
  • Huangjiu (Yellow Liquor) – Fermented
    • SHAOXING WINE (shao – sing). Produced in Shaoxing, Zhe Jiang. Shaoxing is the most internationally known high grade yellow wine, made for drinking and cooking. Traditionally drank both chilled and warm.
    • NU ER HONG (nü-eR-hong). Produced in Shaoxing, Zhe Jiang Fermented from glutinous rice and wheat. Alcohol degree is less than 20 degrees. Traditionally drank warm. Nu Er Hong has a beautiful story. In the ancient times, when the baby daughter was born, the parent would carve or paint jars of wine and bury them underground until the daughter got married. Thereafter, the parents would dig the wines out for a feast with the guests, hence its name Nu Er Hong (Daughter Rice Wine)
  • Chinese Grape Wine – Fermented
    • White – Produced in Shaan Xi, Northwest China. Close proximity to Xi An, home of the Terracotta Warriors. Grace Vineyard is one of the most established winery in China, and has been in operations since 1997. The first vintage was produced in 2001. Grace Vineyards Tasya’s Reserve Chardonnay 2008. Color: Pale, straw Green. Aromas: Light oak, tropical fruits, cashews. Palate: Light oak, nuts, melon fruits. Mouth-filling with fresh acidity.
    • Red – Grace Vineyards Tasya’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Color: Deep Ruby Red. Aromas: Blackberry, blackcurrant, subtle oak. Palate: Soft, medium-bodied red wine with blackberry notes. Fine tannins and light oak, good clean finish.
  • Beer – TSING TAO BEER (ching-dao). Brewery was founded by German settlers in China in 1903. Tsing Tao is the number one branded consumer producted exported in China

The catalogue above is compliments of Winnie Toh (photo above) from Singapore who is herself a Certified sommelier by Court of Master Sommeliers and also received the WSET Advanced Certificate in Wines and Spirits as well as the Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence.

This occasion has made me realise how much material I have on the Maldives’ biggest guest country, China, so I am adding the tag “Chinese” today to bring together all these pieces.

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: Palm Wine – Soneva Fushi

Soneva Fushi - palm wine harvesting

Soneva Fushi’slet it grow” libations are its homemade palm wine. The photo above shows the vine-strapped ladder steps attached to a palm tree where a Maldivian climbs to access tap the sap (let it flow) from the palm flower. The entire process is done in traditional dress and with traditional techniques and then fermented on the resort.