Words by Daniel Bosley; Pictures by Aishath Naj
While most Asian countries have well-developed reputations for street food, this is not something the Maldives has ever felt the need to specialise in.
First of all, Maldivian magu haven’t traditionally had the same hustle of a Delhi or a Bangkok, with ‘on the go’ snacks not normally required when your mother’s house is never more than a three-minute walk away.
However, if you look hard enough, you can find the Maldives’ own contribution to the genre. Hidden down on the southside of Male’, far away from the day-tripping tourists looking for authentic island culture, you can find the gaadiya.
Here, alongside zooming motorbikes and idling dhonis, customers can drink fresh kurumba and eat mas kaashi – a smorgasbord of local produce combining, mango, chilli, onion and parts of the coconut most still don’t realise exist. The combination is up to you; in a nation whose cuisine has relied almost-solely on coconuts and tuna for two millenia, you have to be creative.
Definitely an acquired taste, it may be some time before mas kaashi sneaks onto the resorts’ buffets, as have a few intrepid gulha and some entrepreneurial mas huni. On the street, nothing is wasted, with the drained kurumba chopped in half and its outer edged sliced off to form a spoon which finishes the job.
Finally, the stands offer customers a variation on the after-meal betel nuts found in every island eatery. Molhu (greater) bilaiy gandu features dried coconut, cinnamon, cardamon, cloves and fruit jelly in addition to the stimulating leaves and palette-cleansing nuts.
Thes modern gaadiya stands evolved from hand-drawn carts, and with the heaving capital in no need of extra traffic, the stalls now line up on the outskirts of the island’s ring road – pinned between the city and the sea wall. Here, after making way for the Chinese bridge development on the usfasgandu area, they are temporarily safe from Male’s insatiable growth.
Should these stands be asked to trundle on again, this speciality food may be impossible to get for 130,000 Maldivians longing for that taste of island life.