Words by: Nazim Hassan
Many might not know this, but a lot of people living in capital Male who are originally from Kulhudhuffushi in Haa Dhaal atoll have long held a tradition of their own. Whenever a relative or a friend travels from the island to the capital city, they get a special kind of gift from their parents back home. As the number of years they spend away from their parents increase, so the number of this special, unique gift they get.
Known in local Dhivehi language as Haalu Folhi, this crepe-like local delicacy is unique to island of Kulhudhuffushi. Nowhere else in the Maldives is Haalu Folhi made! But natives of Kulhudhuffushi – even the oldest generation alive – have never known a time when Haalu Folhi was not made in the island. They have always made it. They have always consumed it. And they have always loved it!
So, the origins of this unique delicacy is shrouded in mystery, just like any other traditional and cultural aspect of the Maldives. Althought there is no written account as to how Haalu Folhi came into being, there is a story told by almost every islander, and it goes something like this;
Once, there was an extremely poor woman living in the island with many children. A single mother, she had no means to feed her children. So one day, she gathered the few items she could find and made what would become known as Haalu Folhi as food for her children. Legend has it that everyone who had a taste of it fell in love Haalu Folhi, and she later started making it for others, earning herself an income to support her family. The story has somewhat a factual basis to it, as the word “Haalu” roughly translates into “helpless” or “being in a state of helplessness” in Dhivehi.
Whatever its origins maybe, Haalu Folhi remains to this day quite popular amongst the residents of Kulhudhuffushi and people across the Maldives alike. It has become part of Kulhudhuffushi’s identity and the pride of the island’s inhabitants, with the original recipe, preparation method and everything preserved and brought along to this day.
Let’s look at how Haalu Folhi is made.
Haalu Folhi is always made in the morning, to allow them to be left in the afternoon sun to dry – a technique that prolongs its shelf-life. The utensils used are just as unique as the Haalu Folhi itself. The wok-like instrument is imported from India, but ‘configured’ to make it ready for the preparation. It is first filled with coconut milk and left open until the milk turns into oil. The oil is then heated for days before the wok is ready.
The ingredients needed for Haalu Folhi are simple and few; only water, rice, egg and sugar. The rice grains are soaked in water, rinsed and grinded into powder before it is mixed with water and sugar. The eggs are mixed with coconut oil in a ceramic pot. It is then rotated along with the wok. The Folhi is made one by one, and transferred onto a sheet, which is left out in the sun in order to allow the Folhi to dry.
Having a thin, sheet-like structure and an oval shape, Haalu Folhi has a very long shelf-life, and is often enjoyed with milk. This sweet delicacy also has a filling effect, and is high in demand as locals and visitors alike wish to have a taste of this unique Maldivian – ‘Kulhudhuffushi-an’ to be exact – creation at least once!