Taste of Maldives: an Italian-Maldivian love story told through food

Unrivalled luxury, stunning white-sand beaches and an amazing underwater world make the Maldives an obvious choice for a true holiday of a lifetime. The Indian Ocean island nation is famous world over for its unique natural beauty. Over a million tourists visit its idyllic beach resorts every year to spend their hard earned vacations.

A hefty majority of those visitors is only exposed to the island nation’s white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and lush green vegetation. But there is more to the Maldives than its natural beauty. The country has a rich culture and more of an ancient history than one might suppose. For instance, the architectural styles of tombs and mosques found across the archipelago exhibit the superb craftsmanship of Maldivians.

Like every foreign family on vacation, the Stiatti family too was brought to the Maldives by its natural beauty. When they arrived in the Alimatha resort in Vaavu Atoll almost 25 years ago, it was, as Caludia Stiatti described it, love at first sight. The Italian family, from her mother Orietta Maffei Stiatti to her brother Gian Marco Stiatti, fell in love with not only the beaches and the sea, but also with the relaxed atmosphere in the Maldives.

“Since then, we came back to Alimatha resort once every year,” Claudia says, sitting in front of me at SeaHouse Cafe in capital Male after a tour of the local fish market.

But for the Stiattis, their regular stays in the Maldives went beyond simple stays in a luxury resort. Their love to explore the Maldives resulted in frequent day visits to neighbouring islands, especially Keyodhoo. The family took every opportunity to explore the local culture — from the Maldivian cuisine to almost every aspect of island life and the islanders’ connection to the sea — and interact with locals.

Italians, as it has been said, love food, and what got the Stiattis excited most was also the local cuisine of the islands.

“It’s difficult to find authentic Maldivian food in the resorts. So whenever we went to Keyodhoo, we would have local food with the locals. We realised that the Maldivian cuisine was something special, that it includes healthy ingredients, tasty combinations and many traditional dishes handed down from generation to generation. We absolutely loved it,” Claudia says, listing out some of her absolute favourite Maldivian dishes such as Mashuni (a mixture of dried fish, scrapped coconut, chopped onions and spices) and Bajiya (local variant of samosas).

That love the Stiattis had for Maldivian cuisine culminated into a comprehensive cookbook that covers almost every aspect of local food. The book, titled Taste of Maldives and released last year, has five chapters that represent five of the main ingredients used in Maldivian cuisine: spices, tuna, fish, fruits and coconut. Together with traditional dishes such as Mashuni and Kulhimas (local variant of devilled fish), the 200-page book also includes modern recipes created by infusing local products such as Rihaakuru (fish paste) with international favourites like spaghetti.

But compiling a 200-page book that is available in English, Russian, Italian and Chinese from scratch was no easy task. Claudia and her mother, who co-authored the book, came to “our second home” of Keyodhoo with a food stylist and photographer, and captured the essence of Maldivian cuisine with meticulous styling of dishes and incredible photography. Residents of the island were their biggest help; they provided a list of recipes and made every dish from scratch.

“We had just 10 days to shoot all the recipes. So shootings would go on from morning till late into the night. It was difficult, but we all enjoyed it,” Claudia says.

Taste of Maldives, available for purchase on Amazon and from some local shops in capital Male, has been well-received by locals and visitors alike. The book was voted number two in the Best Book of Asia category at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2016, and has become a must-have at several local guesthouses and resorts including Kuramathi Island Resort.

Orietta (R) poses for a photo at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2016 in China.

It’s been said that there is no love sincerer than the love of food. For Claudia and the entire Stiatti family, their love for food, which stems from their Italian roots, is now intertwined with their love for the Maldives. From helping local entrepreneurs set up and manage guesthouses in several islands including their second home of Keyodhoo to guiding Italians who want to visit the Maldives, the family’s love affair with the Maldives is just beginning.

“Everybody loves the Maldives. We want to tell the story of the Maldives and its people to Italians and everyone else,” Claudia says.

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