Kenneth Gundu On Traditional Maldivian Cuisine
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Kenneth Gundu On Traditional Maldivian Cuisine

A local chef shares some history on the Maldives' food scene

A former significant trading post, the Maldives was key to the ancient spice route, a place where traders would export spices and goods from Indonesia, India, and Arabia, for a rich culinary exchange. And keeping the traditional flavours and dishes alive is the fine dining restaurant Ba’theli and its Head Chef, Kenneth Tichaona Gundu.

Part of the five-star hotel Milaidhoo Maldives, Ba’theli not only pays homage to the spice route via its ingredients and contemporary interpretations of classic dishes – it’s named after the traditional wooden sailing boats that brought these rare goods from far-flung lands. Then there’s also the architecture of the restaurant, which has been crafted to resemble three boats in the Milaidhoo lagoon. Offering barefoot luxury and a host of spices, underpinned by locally sourced produce, Gundu tells us more about Ba’theli, the Maldives’ only fine dining, traditional Maldivian restaurant.

Q&A with Kenneth Tichaona Gundu

Milaidhoo Maldives

How would you sum up Maldivian cuisine and its flavours?

Maldivian cuisine is anchored in the bounty of the sea, with a focus on tuna and a vibrant array of tropical ingredients. It is heavily influenced by Indian, Sri Lankan, Arab, and African flavours, and forms a unique fusion of tastes and techniques. Signature dishes include grilled fish (Fihunu Mas) and robust curries with blends of cumin, coriander, and turmeric, served with staples like rice and flatbreads. Coconut also takes centre stage as a pivotal ingredient and features in many dishes. 

Tell us about the concept behind Ba’theli?

Ba’theli invites guests to taste a history that spans over 5,000 years, as it held a crucial position in the spice trade, between Indonesia, India, and Arabia. Bearing the name of the traditional cargo boats, or ‘ba’theli,’ that once sailed these historic routes, the restaurant pays homage to this famous exchange of goods and cultural influences that have shaped the Maldives.

What are the signature dishes?

The three signature dishes include:

  • Kirugarudhiya: Fresh coconut milk poached fish and shellfish soup, flavoured with island spices, and finished with a curry leaf ocean foam.
  • Filolhu Ihi Riha: Grilled white snapper fillets, Maldivian lobster, tomato essence, plain rice, and coconut espuma.
  • Maldivian Tasting: Traditional mini dessert treats and screwpine fruit ice cream.

How do you go about menu planning and sourcing ingredients?

I like planning culinary experiences by carefully selecting local ingredients, championing native flavours, and establishing partnerships with local suppliers. We adapt to seasonal changes, orchestrating the logistics of sourcing to deliver local and international flavours. At the heart of my culinary philosophy is a commitment to sustainability, incorporating eco-friendly practices, and minimising food waste. Through these efforts, we craft menus that authentically reflect the unique geography and culture of the Maldives.

Food at Milaidhoo Maldives

How do you incorporate sustainability into your menu?

We are dedicated to sourcing locally and seasonally, ensuring that our ingredients are fresh and vibrant. Prioritising organic and sustainable choices, we take pride in cultivating some of our own vegetables and fruit to guarantee the highest quality. Our commitment extends to the oceans as we opt for sustainable and local seafood, supporting responsible fishing practices. Mindful of our environmental impact, we actively minimise both food and packaging waste. Collaborating with like-minded suppliers, we forge partnerships that contribute to a healthier, more responsible culinary ecosystem.

Tell us about the infamous spice route, and how that’s impacted on the cuisine, and your menu?

The Spice Route served as a dynamic conduit for the cross-cultural exchange of culinary traditions and ingredients. As aromatic treasures traversed this historic path, they integrated into the fabric of Maldivian cuisine.

What is it about Maldivian cuisine that you love?

I hold a deep appreciation for Maldivian cuisine and its distinctive flavours and spices. Standout dishes like Mas huni and perfectly grilled fish have become personal favourites, and I think they perfectly show the culinary mastery of the Maldives, making use of fresh and locally sourced ingredients. 

milaidhoo.com

Images courtesy of Milaidhoo Maldives