Once almost a staple found in many households, and after disappearing for a bit, these have now risen in popularity and made a huge comeback. I’m talking about the much-loved type of snacks which are prepared in various parts of the country, some unique to a particular atoll, others common to all islands, all essentially Maldivian, and distributed generously during festive occasions or presented as gifts.
Let’s see how many I can rattle off: kaajaa, ulhaali, thelli bambukeyo, kashikeyo foah, boakuri falhoa, Addu bondi, athujehi, fufoo murubbaa, kajuru, bimbitheleythi, haalufolhi, ruhbudu, tharafana, bocholhi and etc. Got you hankering for some hadhiyaa yet?
This article focuses on some of the most popular snacks prepared in Eydhafushi, not only because this island in Baa Atoll has long been known for some tasty treats, but also because Ms. Saeeda from Eydhafushi has very kindly given me an insight into the preparation of these snacks.
The processes which go into making tharafana were a complete surprise to me, mainly because my experience was based on just eating the addictively tasty snack.
I heard rumours that viha lagondi was initially used for this, after extensive boiling and washing to remove the poison. Much to my relief though, this is now made with ground rice flour and corn flour, mixed into dough with hot water. This is then divided and rolled into 10 inch long cylindrical pieces of just over an inch diameter. These ‘foali’ are put into boiling water, and are deemed cooked when they rise to the surface. Removed from the water, they are laid out to dry before being put in the fridge overnight.
The following dawn (yes, dawn), the foali are sliced thinly and sun-dried. This is where the community comes in. When preparing big batches, the foali are distributed amongst the neighbours for slicing, so you can imagine the households with carpets of these round slices laid out in the sunshine. When dried, the ‘venbolhu’ as they are called at this stage, are deep fried until they are crisp light wafers, or ‘maajahandhen’, and turned out onto thickened dhiyaahakuru, and then this palm sugar syrup is again poured over them. This results in clumps of delightfully sweet tharafana, which you can just eat and eat and eat.
Ulhaali is made either sweet, or savoury, and those who are familiar with this snack, would agree that these are really pretty and satisfying to eat. The sweet version is made by first cooking thick coconut cream and sugar, to which are added dry ground rice and flour.
The soft dough is then rolled out by hand to form long continuous strands of even thickness of few millimeters, and laid out on large oiled leaves, in whatever pattern required. Oiling the leaves, normally unifaiy or madhufaiy, is usually the children’s job. Leaving the women free to concentrate on creating intricate patterns, floral, geometrical, or even the letters of the English alphabet.
These are fried immediately, till golden and crisp to the bite. Food colouring can be used in the mixing stages to produce bright pieces, but to a large extent ulhaali is perfectly perfect when fried a golden brown. Like most such snacks, ulhaali can be stored for weeks. While Eydhafushi is known for producing the beautiful ulhaali, it is also made in other islands, including Lh. Hinnavaru.
Until a few years ago, I have never even heard of, let alone tasted this savoury snack. And the name is so appropriate, it being shaped like the bottom of the coconut palm or ‘ruhbudu’, with spiky bits sticking out representing the roots.
Ruhbudu is also made from rice flour, and the mixture is not thick like dough, but just runny enough to easily pour through the eye of a coconut shell, straight onto the ladle. The pattern goes round to completely fill the base of the ladle, and then short spikes are created on top of it. The ladle is then gently lowered onto the frying oil, leaving the ruhbudu to harden into a brown and brittle piece of pure taste. Goes down well with black tea.
Ruhbudu can also be made as a sweet snack, with the mixture similar to that of ulhaali, but it is the savoury that’s the winner with most people.
The ingredients for binbitheleythi are ground bimbi, egg yolk (turtle egg used to be the preferred option), flour, gabulhi huni (desiccated tender coconut), dhiyaahakuru, sugar and maafen (jasmine water). This is mixed well and formed into little doughnut shapes, which are deep fried.
In Eydhafushi, binbitheleythi is left soft, while in other islands such as Hinnavaru, it is fried till it hardens.
Bambukeyo, or breadfruit, being scarce in Eydhafushi, it is not widely available for producing the much-loved chips, although those lucky enough to have a tree in their garden do make chips. Occasionally, visiting boats do sell the fruit by the harbour.
The cleaned and sliced bambukeyo can be sun dried and then fried, but many are of the opinion that frying immediately without drying gives a much better taste. I agree. Freshly fried bambukeyo, still slightly warm, is truly something else.
The screwpine, or kashikeyo, is an aromatic tasty fruit which can be used to make so many different desserts, kandhi, baiypen, and the increasingly popular cake and ice cream, as well as milkshakes and fani. But one common thing, it always needs to be thinly sliced, due to the hard fibers which run from top to bottom of the unusual fruit.
In Eydhafushi, Kashikeyo Foah is made by slicing and cooking the fruit into a pulp, when it is easier to filter out the fibers. Breaking down the kashikeyo is possible with a mixer, but as this leaves in a fair bit of the fiber, most prefer to use the traditional method.
After adding sugar, maafen and gabulhi huni, it is cooked further. A tiny bit of corn flour is added and the mixture heated till it forms a firm dough. When it cools a bit, it is molded into small soft balls, the size of arecanut, hence the name.
And many more
Although this article centres round the products of Eydhafushi, there are numerous more snacks out there and I look forward to seeking them out, and tasting them, all for the sake of taste.mv and its readers.
I am truly grateful to Ms. Saeedha for her time and patience while I grappled to understand the processes involved in the making of the perfectly Maldivian snacks. They are now commonly produced for order, and readily available in shops, although they do sell out fast.
But you know the one thing that really stuck in my mind following our chat, was the sense of a community working together to prepare the treats, especially for holidays such as Eid. That goes a long way towards making Eid such a festive event in most of the islands.
Words by Fasah Ahmed