Being born and bred in the Maldives, the local cuisine has become a huge part of my identity – to the point where I doubt I’d be able to survive without a side of fish on my plate. There’s a saying in the Maldives, that the blood running through the veins of a Maldivian is that of fish, and I think it just may be true.
Fish is a major part of the Maldivian cuisine, and one might think that there’s only so many ways fish can be cooked. Over the course of hundreds of years, Maldivians have mastered the art of cooking fish, with each dish having an authentic Maldivian taste to it. So from yours truly, here’s how to eat lunch like a pro.
On today’s menu, we have ‘Bathaa Garudhiya’ or as we like to call it over here in Addu, ‘Bathaai Garadhiya’. This is a classic local staple, and personally, my favourite! The dish is basically plain white rice (Baiy), eaten with fish broth (Garudhiya) made typically from tuna. The rice is best when cooked with fresh coconut milk and pandan leaves, while the garudhiya is cooked with chunks of fish in a brine broth, enriched with onions, garlic, dried red chilli and curry leaves. Of course deboned tuna is the easiest way, but there is a special taste when the garudhiya is cooked with all of its bones including the head.
Now while lunch can be served with just the rice and garudhiya is a humble staple meal, it’s the sides and the toppings that make this dish world class.
This meal wouldn’t be complete without some ‘Theluli Mas’ or fried fish, if you ask me. This is normally chunks of tuna or reef fish covered in chilli paste, fried in oil. As for the toppings, normally in case you don’t get your hands on all the fancy toppings, a wedge of lime, a spicy chilli, a few slices of onion, and a couple of baked garlic cloves are the classics, since these are a must have in any Maldivian household. You can also substitute lime with bilimbi, for a tropical twist.
But if you want to get the best out of this meal, trust me, the additional toppings really hit the sweet spot.
Number one on that list would be ‘Thelulifaiy’, which is a mixture of fried moringa leaves, onions, garlic and thinly sliced fish. This combined with any type of ‘Sambol’ like fish, veg or my favourite, Aluvi (potato) sambol really amps up the quality of the dish.
Another fan favourite are pickles, or as we call it, ‘Asaara’, which is a special type of pickle that goes really well with the rice and garudhiya. We love anything pickled. So you can mix in pickled carrots, mangoes, garlic or even peppers and you’ll be thanking me later.
However, if you’re on the more healthy side, you could opt for fresh moringa leaves instead of the fried leaves and sambol. Additional healthy sides commonly used are carrot, cucumber and tomato slices. Some of us also enjoy slices of raw mangoes and slices of either boiled yam, breadfruit, sweet potatoes or plantains. Another good healthy option is to have the meal with some finely chopped collard greens.
With all these elements to the dish, you might wonder how you’re supposed to eat the meal – but the answer is very simple. You mix it all up. Mix up the leaves, the fish, all the veggies and enjoy the goodness of every bite. We normally eat bathaa garudhiya by hand – after a thorough hand washing session of course, but if this isn’t something that’s up your alley, don’t worry, it’s totally cool to use utensils too.
All of this makes an excellent and filling lunch, but if you really want a seat in the big leagues, there’s one more aspect about this meal that really sets it apart from anything you might have heard of. Along with your fully set plate of rice and garudhiya with all the sides and toppings, place another plate of that fish head I suggest you put in when preparing the garudhiya. Eating the fish head requires skills and we call this ‘Mas boa roolhun’, which basically means deconstructing the fish head. We take apart the head and devour all the edible parts. Pro tip! Go for the eyes, they’re delicious!
Now you can try making this where ever you are in the world, if you’ve got some fish on your hands. But the true essence of eating this meal really comes in when you cook the garudhiya from sustainably sourced fresh tuna – something we absolutely make sure of in the Maldives. So the next time you’re in Maldives sure to ask for some Bathaa Garudhiya for lunch!