“An Exclusive look into Saatanuge Handulu Gulha”

If you live in Male’, and love hedhika, chances are that the words ‘Saatanuge Handulu Gulha’ sets off a chemical reaction of sorts. Actually, that goes for most gulha loving Maldivians, wherever in the world they live.

What began as a joint effort by wife and husband, selling fuh gulha and then bajiya, made at home, the business dates over 40 years. But it was only about 20 years ago that they decided to cater solely to the demand for handulu gulha.

The matriarch of the family, Saeeda, still plays the leading role in the daily process, and is therefore the person we were looking forward to interviewing. Despite it being midday, and at such short notice, she was very kind to take some time to chat with, along with her youngest daughter Hasma.

The whole operation is carried out in the family’s kitchen, which barely accommodates the whole team, and Saeeda is hopeful about being able to expand the business once they can move to larger premises. Something they are very keen on, as Hasma also needs more kitchen space for her brownies and cakes.

The daily work starts off at 5.30 in the morning, with the cooking of tuna. Instead of smoked tuna, they opt for fresh tuna which is bought weekly and stored in the freezer. Once she is back from her early morning swim, Saeeda sets out the ingredients to be used, including the 25kg of rice soaked overnight for every batch.

This gives us an inkling of the great quantities made, although they cannot tell me the average number of gulha fried daily. No wonder that they use electric gadgets to grind the rice, and grate the coconut. Saeeda also employs four helpers, who come in daily to assist with the massive task, and one of them has been the mixing the gulha masgandu, for the past 13 years.

One important question is whether Saeeda is the only person who knows the exact ingredients and amounts which keep the gulha tasting the same through all these years? Well, no. Her daughters are familiar with all the ingredients and processes, since they take over during their mother’s absence. Just as well, since there would be an outcry from the regular customers should handulu gulha not be available, although as a general rule Fridays, Ramadan and Eid are all strictly no gulha days.

The handulu gulha from Saatanuge is always crunchy on the outside, and the inside is just the perfect balance of savory and spicy, as Saeeda is adamant that exactly the same amount of each ingredient is used daily, no matter what the market prices are.

Saatanuge gulha is sold at the doorstep of their home, as space restrictions mean that they cannot increase gulha production for any outlets. Keep in mind though, that Saatanuge gulha sells out fast, so if you need a large quantity you’re better off ordering in advance. To order, all you need to do is give your details and pay cash in the morning, and you can collect the much-loved gulha anytime after 2.30pm.

Saatanuge is also known for making handulu gulha for when you travel abroad. Basically the same ingredients, but takes longer to prepare so you would need to order bit more in advance.

The mother of five, Saeeda is quite content with the gulha business, as the income allows her to live an independent life, without relying financially on her children. Friendly and easy to talk to, it was a pleasure to interview both mother and daughter.

Learning afterwards that she has not given any interviews in the past couple of decades, we were even more grateful for this opportunity to give our readers an insight into the history and production of Saatanuge handulu gulha.

Words by Fasah Ahmed
Photos by Taste