The Republic of Maldives is a chain of over one thousand tiny islands located in the Indian Ocean. Less than half of those islands are inhabited or used for tourism. Nearby is the Island of Sri Lanka and mainland India. With a population of just over 550,000 people, the country’s landscape is mostly flat, with no hills or mountains.
The Maldives’s main industry is tourism. Ranked as one of the most attractive travel destinations, it’s not hard to see why. The coralline sands on the beaches are pure white and fine. The water is clear blue showing off its coral reefs, sand bars and underwater sea animals. The climate is tropical and remains steadily warm throughout most of the year.
Most Popular Maldivian Dishes
The second largest industry is fishing. Tuna is the primary fish species caught and the main export product. Generally, the cuisine consists of foods that are available in abundance such as fish and coconuts.
Home gardens are popular, where the residents grow vegetables, sweet potatoes, cassava, pumpkins, breadfruit and other tropical fruit. Maldivian cuisine is typical of South Asia. Like neighboring countries of India and Sri Lanka, the cuisine features many types of curries, flatbreads and tea. The food is often both spice-filled and spicy.
So without further ado, here are the absolute must-try traditional dishes of the Maldives along with recipes for you to try for yourself.
Moringa Leaf Omelette
Moringa Leaf Omelette is an omelette containing Moringa leaves. Moringa trees are native to Southern Asian countries and can be known by several names including the miracle tree, drumstick tree and the horseradish tree. The tiny leaves are mixed into the omelette batter before cooking.
In Western countries, Moringa is used as a supplement and praised as an herb with healing properties. In the Maldives and surrounding countries, it’s just a regular part of the diet. Moringa’s taste is described as being similar to matcha or a strong spinach.
Dhon Riha is a Maldivian tuna fish curry cooked with coconut milk and cardamom. It also includes spices like fennel, cumin, fenugreek and cinnamon but no curry powder. Instead, fresh curry leaves are used giving it a mild flavor. It is typically served with rice.
Tharukaaree riha is an orange-colored vegetable curry dish made with carrots, pumpkins, coconut milk. Typical spices used include ginger, turmeric, chilies and pandan leaves.
Garadhiya is a fish broth, usually made from tuna. The tuna is cooked in salted water with curry leaves, onions and chillies. The chunks are removed from the broth before serving with rice, lime and sometimes toppings like Theluli Mas. Theluli Mas is a condiment made from fish, covered in chilli paste which is then fried. Garudhiya is popularly eaten as a lunch meal.
Banbukeylu harissa is a Maldivian breadfruit curry. The breadfruit is steamed then mashed. It’s then flavored with spices like ginger, curry and chillies. Coconut milk is added to make the dish saucy since breadfruit is dense and starchy. It is typically served with rice.
Breadfruit is a tropical fruit that grows on massive trees. When unripe, the texture of breadfruit makes it impossible to eat raw or open without using a tool like a knife. It must be cooked to be eaten. When the breadfruit is ripe, it becomes soft enough to tear open. The pulp becomes sweet and creamy, then it can be eaten raw as a fruit.
Roshi is a Maldivian flatbread similar to the Indian flatbread, chapati. However, chapati is made from atta flour which is whole wheat flour whereas roshi is made from plain white flour. Basic roshi is made from flour, salt and water rolled into flat discs and cooked on a pan.
There are many other types of roshi such as Mas Aluvi Roshi which is roshi filled with potatoes and fish. Huni Roshi is made with grated coconut in the dough.
Bis Keemiyaa is a fried pastry filled with cabbage, eggs and tuna. The pastry is similar to an egg roll. Some variations of Bis Keemiyaa contain curry leaves. The tuna can be omitted to make it more vegetarian friendly. It is popular snack food eaten throughout the country.
Maldive Fish Chips
Maldive fish chips are dried, cured fish made from fish like tuna and mackerel. It’s not a food typically eaten as is but they come packaged and are then used as a thickening agent and flavoring for foods like curries and sambal.
The chips are enjoyed not only by Maldivians but also in South India and Sri Lanka where its an essential ingredient in many dishes.
In the Maldives, locals make this fish at home. The fish is poached then laid out on a rack over an open fire stove to dry. The open fire below the fish infuses them with a smokey flavor. Smoked fish can be stored for several weeks without refrigeration.
Handulu Bondibai is a Maldivian rice pudding flavored with rose water, coconut, cinnamon and pandan leaves. Pandan leaves have grassy but sweet, nut-vanilla flavor.
Handulu Bondibai is eaten as a dessert and made for special occasions like Eid, the breaking of the fast. It marks the end of Ramadan which is the month of fasting and prayers.
Kavaabu is a type of fish fritter dish. The batter is made from flour and various ingredients like tuna, ginger, chilies, lemon juice, lentils, coconut, turmeric and curry leaves. Bite sized portions of the batter are then deep fried. It is eaten as snack food.
Dhonkeyo Kajuru are fried banana fritters. Sweet ripe bananas are mashed into a batter which is flavored with coconut and vanilla essence or rose water. Dhonkeyo Kajuru is eaten as a snack, dessert or with tea.
Mas Huni is a typical breakfast dish consisting of tuna and coconut. It is similar to a tuna salad. Other ingredients include hot peppers, lemon juice and onions. Mas Huni is eaten for breakfast usually accompanied by flatbread and tea.
Aluvi Boakibaa is a sweet cassava-coconut cake. The simple ingredients to make this cake is coconut, cassava, sugar, rose water and butter or oil. There are no leavening agents like baking powder or baking soda used, so the texture isn’t like a typical fluffy cake. This unleavened cake is dense.