by Iyath Adam
Lunch in the Maldives is traditionally eaten all in one course. A carb dish – mostly always rice – is served with different sides and condiments. Generally, the food is spicy, savoury and has a lot of different textures mixed in on one plate.
Although the food taste of the Maldivian people has changed and become more modern, these traditional lunch dishes remain well-loved and are widely eaten in households even now.
The staple of Maldivian lunch cuisine is rice. Specifically, medium-grained, parboiled white rice known as haru handoo is the type that has been enjoyed throughout the ages. This rice can be prepared by adding a little coconut milk to it whilst cooking, giving it a creamier, fuller taste.
Photo above: Maldivian fish broth Garudhiya
Photo above: Maldivian fish paste Rihaakuru
Different sides and condiments are eaten with haru handoo baiy. The most traditional of these side dishes include garudhiya, the Maldivian fish broth and rihaakuru, the Maldivian fish paste – both salty, umami dishes which go well with the plain rice.
Photo above: Masfen
Photo above: Rihaakuru dhiya
Another important side dish is rihaakuru dhiya, made by mixing rihaakuru and coconut milk along with aromatics like onion, chillies, and ginger. A fresher, less savoury version of this is mas fen, which has valhomas (Maldivian smoked fish) and coconut milk as the main ingredients.
Photo above: Bambukeyolee baiy
Similarly eaten as haru handoo baiy is bambukeyolee baiy – cooked with small pieces of breadfruit or bambukeyo – usually enjoyed with rihaakuru dhiya. The boiled pieces of bambukeyo go very well when mixed together with the salty, pungent rihaakuru dhiya.
Photo above: Thelli mas
Enjoyed with all these dishes is thelli mas or fihunu mas; pieces of fish which have been slathered in a spice mixture and either deep fried (thelli) or grilled (fihunu).
Other than rice, Maldivians also eat certain boiled root vegetables such as taro (ala) and sweet potato (kattala) along with green plantains (maalhoskeyo). These can be eaten on their own with garudhiya and huni (grated coconut) or can be eaten mixed with rice as well.
Several condiments are eaten with the rice/boiled root vegetables and fish-based sides dishes.
Photo above: Mango asaara, lonu lunbo, carrot asaara, date asaara
Different types of asaara or Maldivian pickle is made with different fruits and vegetables including mango, carrot, bilimbi and dates. Something like this is also lonu lunbo or pickled whole limes. These pickles add a savoury, sour taste, enhancing the freshness of dishes such as garudhiya and mas fen.
Thelli faiy or fried moringa leaves is probably the most well-enjoyed condiment in Maldivian cuisine. The leaves are removed from the stem and fried with onions, garlic, and dried chilies to create a crunchy, savoury mixture. Sometimes the dried chillies are also eaten on their own. Known as thelli mirus or folhi kuri mirus – the chillies are fried in a small amount of oil until they puff up.
Photo above: Lonumirus
Another dish which adds great texture is thelli rehi (fried silver sprats). These tiny fish are usually coated in lonumirus and fried until crispy. Lonumirus is a ground mixture of spicy scotch bonnet or githeyomirus, onions, garlic, ginger, salt, lime juice and grated coconut (huni) which is also a condiment in its own right.
The Maldivian smoked dish or valhomas is also sometimes cut up and served as a condiment, along with raw onion, limes and chillies to add some extra ‘oomph’ to dishes.