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“Thymekeeper; an interview with Affan Abdulla Didi (Affan)”

Words by: Ali Hussain

Photography by: Thyme

 

For those who aren’t in the know, Affan is 33 and already an established restauranteur who co-owns Thyme, the unpretentious little café on Koarukendi Hingun in Maafannu. Though he studied economics and political science in Delhi, Affan discovered the joy of cooking while in college and eventually pursued a culinary career. Taste sits down with him to have a chat about Addu Havaadhu, pasta and finds out his favourite dining spots in the city.

Taste: Let’s start off by telling us about the sort of stuff you like to cook.

Affan: Actually, I got the chance to cook while I was studying in India [in 2010]. At that time, most of my friends were North-East Indian so I leaned more towards North-East Indian cooking. So, kind of plain meals with a lot of beef. Then I discovered Addu Havaadhu.

Taste: Yeah! Addu Havaadhu is awesome. What did you make with it?

Affan: I was cooking North-East Indian curries, which had a lot of tomatoes, slow-cooked beef. So, I tried something similar but with Addu Havaadhu and it turned out to be really popular. That’s how I gained confidence in my cooking; so many people from diverse backgrounds liked my food.

When I came back to Male, my brother-in-law was running a café called Vodkin. I worked there for three months and I found it really enjoyable. Then I joined the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) and worked there for a bit before I decided to pursue a career in the culinary field. So, I joined the Faculty of Hospitality’s culinary arts programme, did six months. Then I met a friend who was in the food business, he owned the place where Thyme is now. We got to talking and decided to open up Thyme.

Taste: And then you did something with Addu Havaadhu there, Addu Reha.

Affan: Yeah, that’s how it got there.

 

Taste: Plus, you have your pasta.

Affan: Yeah, the pasta happened because of my honeymoon in Europe. We’d already decided to open Thyme so, on that trip, there was a huge focus on food. Europe obviously has a lot of pasta, I was struck by its taste and simplicity. The ‘valhoamas spaghetti’ [at Thyme] came out of a seafood pasta I tried in Florence. So, when we started out, our signature dishes at Thyme were Addu Reha, valhoamas spaghetti, and the crispy chicken burger.

Taste: Why the burger, though?

Affan: My friend had a café where Thyme is, and the crispy chicken burger used to be popular there so I wanted to carry it on at Thyme.

Taste: Yeah, one of my friends went mental when you debuted the chicken burger. He couldn’t stop raving about it.

Affan: [laughs]

Taste: You have beef burgers too, right?

Affan: Yes, but I wouldn’t say it’s the best because we don’t get the kind of consistency we want from our meat suppliers.

Taste: All right, going back to your pasta. You drew inspiration from your travels in Europe but the pasta you serve at Thyme is adapted to a Maldivian palate. It’s spicy.

Affan: Yeah, we started out with milder versions but it sort of turned out that way because of customer feedback.

Taste: I really dig your seafood pasta by the way. It’s buttery, and you’re not stingy with the seafood.

Affan: Yeah? It’s olive oil based, creamy, there’s a little butter in it. We’re thinking of changing the menu after Ramadan, though, and offering some simpler pasta options. We’re trying out some mild but still flavourful stuff.

Taste: Cool. So, what do you cook at home?

Affan: Mostly curries really. For Thyme I wanted to make a difference, though. It was mostly bami goreng and stuff out there at the time and instead of trying something I could cook very well, like curry, I wanted to change things up a bit.

Taste: OK. Now, how about eating out? Do you have any favourite cafés, restaurants?

Affan: Yeah, I liked the Haabaru Kadas before they closed down, kotthu and chili octopus were pretty good there. I also like Jazz [café] and Lemongrass Fifth. Lemongrass does really good curries and roshi for lunch. And in terms of consistency, I think City Garden is pretty good. It may not be the best, but you can be sure the fried rice you’ve got tastes the same as the one you had a month ago.

As for coffee places, I really like Civil Coffee Society and Meraki. They do amazing coffee.

Taste: What do you think of the food culture in Male? Any observations?

Affan: Well, I think Maldivian tastes matter to people. What I mean is, rather than experimental stuff, people want something familiar, something Maldivian. When you do something, say Italian, there’s not much excitement but when you add a local twist to it, it really resonates with people.

Taste: Like valhoamas spaghetti.

Affan: Yeah. People really like that Maldivian touch.

Taste: All right, so what’s next for you?

Affan: I’ll be making Thyme better. I’m looking for a new location for Thyme, it’s a bit out of the way right now. We’ll relocate if we find a good spot.

Taste: Right, thanks so much Affan and good luck with Thyme.

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