“There’s More to Mariya”

The thing about Mariya (Al-Uza. Mariya Ahmed Didi, Minister of Defence and National Security) is that she doesn’t do anything by halves. Committed to what she believes in, and not afraid to go for it, she put it concisely, “If I don’t make mistakes along the way, it isn’t me”.

A familiar and much respected figure in the Maldives’ road to democracy, notably as Chairperson of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), Mariya Ahmed Didi’s legal and political career has been well-documented in the local media, a career which has seen her take up the cause for Women’s Rights, and receive the prestigious International Woman of Courage Award. She was also one of the most vocal members of Parliament, until the recent election of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who appointed Mariya to his Cabinet as the country’s first Minister of Defence and National Security.

Conventional, is not what you can expect her to be.

Al-Uza. Mariya Ahmed Didi, Minister of Defence and National Security

The Normal Day
A typical day for Mariya starts with gym in the early morning, and then work, fuelled with coffee. Since she needs to be active, Mariya goes without breakfast, and opts for a light lunch, time permitting. Of course, as the day progresses, so does hunger, therefore teatime is a serious affair. If you have the honor of hosting Mariya at teatime, make a note that she loves all hedhikaa, and black tea is very welcome.

We touched on a range of topics related to food, which she absolutely loves.

But first, let’s get this out of the way; pineapple on pizza. Mariya sides with the nay sayers. “I love eating pineapple, but not on pizza”. There you go.

And how does she like her potato? Mash is very good, but French Fries take the prize.

As for a food she disliked as a child but now love, Mariya cannot recall anything she did not like. One thing she remembers fondly though, is buying ice lollies from Zurich shop, for a treat during interval at school. And this despite being forbidden to, but she has a feeling her mother saw the brightly colored lolly stains and just chose to ignore it.

Of course, I had to ask what her favorite Dhivehi food was. The reply? “Fenukekki bambukeyo and rice, rihaakurudhiya, maskurolhi”. Stop! Excuse me while I go have lunch.

Seriously though, nothing gets to us like the mention of one of the most popular Dhivehi feasts, consisting of absolute taste explosions, salty, sour and oh so spicy. Mariya, of course, is no exception.

Eating Out
We also talked about the food at the typical big Maldivian weddings, with the endless buffets consisting of mixed cuisines, Dhivehi, Indian, Thai, Italian, etc. I was curious to know what her strategy was, when serving herself. She confessed to liking buffets with limited options, since then the plateful of food would invariably taste better with dishes complementing each other. We all make the mistake of trying just about everything from the buffet, often ending up with things we’re not so keen on. Just because it was there!

Apart from attending weddings and other social events, Mariya does not eat out much. But she does like various international cuisines, including Chinese, Thai, Japanese, some of her favorites being Chicken Fried Rice, Beef and Ginger stir fry, Cashew-nut Chicken and Papaya Salad.

While she applauds the decision for women to enter the traditionally all-male world of teashops, Mariya is truly happy when eating at home. The mother of three prefers a variety of Dhivehi food, but nothing too loaded with spice, while the favorite food her mother makes have always been Kulhiriha and Dhonriha.

Taste of Maldives

One of things we at were keen to know was the types of delicacies from different parts of the country that Mariya liked, given her extensive travel in all the atolls. Maldivian hospitality being what it is, she has been lucky to have tried so many things, but these are some of her absolute favorites.

Chicken curry in Raa Inguraidhoo, Dhaal curry in all islands in Raa Atoll, Golha Riha and Kandukukulhu in Laamu, Gashaabaiy with Murangafaiy in Noonu Velidhoo, and Fihunumas in Laamu Maamendhoo.

Mariya not being a fussy eater, likes most things, but one thing she looks forward to when visiting Addu and Fuvahmulah is the kulhiboakibaa they make using ala. And in Fuvahmulah it’s the freshly fried ala, as well as the fried bambukeyo.

Traditional keyns are all things good and festive about real Maldivian food, and one of her best experiences was in Gaafu Dhaalu Vaadhoo.

Having spent quite a few years in England and Wales, where she studied Law, I asked how she coped with the food there, and whether she constantly hankered for Dhivehi food. Her instant reply: “Welsh lamb!” Served with mint sauce, Welsh lamb steak is something anyone visiting Wales is strongly recommended to try. Apart from that, Mariya explains that she really likes almost all types of food, so never really missed anything in particular.

Mariya Ahmed Didi with Fasah Ahmed from Taste

The Verdict on Seafood
And what is the one thing she really is not too enthusiastic about? Seafood! Not a popular opinion, seeing as almost everyone I know is mad about seafood, but my sentiments exactly. You win some, you lose some.

Chocolate Alert!
Mariya loves chocolate to the extent that nothing is safe around her. Dark or mild, it matters not. If it’s chocolate, or rather if it WAS chocolate, it would have disappeared by now. Although not keen on white chocolate since it does not have the bitter chocolaty taste, she confesses that chocolate is a weakness. So much so that she prefers not to have them in the house. Of course, it’s an entirely different story if her family keeps them around the home, and her husband Amir is often guilty of doing precisely that.

And it’s not just chocolate bars that Mariya indulges in. Cake, ice-cream, desserts; if they have chocolate in them, they all suffer the same fate. And most lovers of chocolate would nod in unison when she says that it is not just a bite or two that is required; if it’s there, it needs to be gone. And by gone, I think you know what she means.

Rapid fire
What do you prefer with Rihaakuru? Anbu, Theluli Banbukeyo or Kulhi Kaajaa? – Ambu (Sour Mango)

Dark chocolate or White chocolate – Dark

Tea or Coffee – Both

Beef or Chicken  – Beef

Farumas or Tuna – Tuna

Karaa fani  or Kurumba fani – Kurumba fani

Kulhi Faaroshi or Foni Faaroshi – Kulhi Faaroshi

Barabo Mashuni or Thora Mashuni – Barabo Mashuni

Mars or Snickers – Snickers

And That’s That
It was a pleasure chatting over tea with Mariya Ahmed Didi, and I learned more about Mariya, the food loving, friendly, witty and down to earth woman whom we have not really gotten to know yet. And we appreciate her taking the time to visit us despite her demanding professional and personal schedule.

Words by Fasah Ahmed
Photos by Taste