Could Maldivian cuisine be the next big thing?

Fresh from his recent trip to the South Asian island, food development expert David Jones explains why he thinks dishes from the Maldives would thrive in today's UK food scene

19 February 2020
asianfood-to-goingredientsNPDplant-basedready mealsfood trend

Consumer palates are evolving in the UK, with retail and foodservice players now looking further abroad than perhaps ever before in terms of the latest flavours, ingredients and textures.

Regional cuisines from a variety of different Asian countries have been gaining real traction in the capital's restaurant scene lately while major supermarkets are now regularly taking influence from the likes of West Africa and the Levant with recent product and ingredient launches.

Earlier this week, we discussed five lesser-known foods from around the world that could have potential in the UK, with Turkish ezme and Italian gnudi of particular interest.

With increasing consumer curiosity allowing for greater experimentation for food development teams, could a cuisine such as Maldivian start to enter mainstream contention in 2020? 

The Maldivian food scene takes influence from Arabic, Indian, Sri Lankan and wider Asian tastes, with plant-based ingredients playing a key role. But despite being potentially an attractive proposition, in line with current healthy eating/vegan trends, its presence in the UK is extremely limited. 

But this could be about to change, says David Jones, co-founder of food innovation team Bingham & Jones, who recently returned from an eye-opening stint exploring the food of the island.   

New flavours, new opportunities

Maldivian chicken curry with kopee leaves and Maldivian chilli

Jones, who specialises in menu development and NPD for retailers and food manufacturers, says UK consumer tastes could be a key driver for the mainstream introduction of Maldivian food.

“I really think there is something in Maldivian cuisine,” Jones tells Food Spark. “I was there only a week or so ago and it quickly dawned on me that this is a cuisine that, as far as I am aware, has never been captured in the UK either in retail or in high street foodservice.

“There is something quite different about Maldivian and it could be the next thing in the UK as we embrace authenticity and real flavours from around the world.”

Jones says that upma – a traditional porridge made from semolina flour, lightly tempered with curry leaves and mustard, mixed with a variety of different vegetables – was particularly exciting, as well as the Hana Kuri Kukulu (a Maldivian chicken curry) and masmirus (chilli paste or dried chilli with tuna).

“I experienced ingredients and flavours that were totally new to me,” continues Jones.

“I sampled some stunning deep flavoured dishes with unusual ingredients that really pack a punch but are light and healthy. It’s a hot pot of cultures creating what is now firmly established as Maldivian cuisine - and dishes are eaten for breakfast as they are for dinner.

“Could this be a new trend for both ready meals, soups and food to go products, I thought? We all have images of the Maldives as being tropical with blue lagoons, white sandy beaches and lots of sun – so could this add to the appeal of Maldivian inspired dishes?

“Would consumers want to buy into a bit of paradise and the feel-good factor that comes with it?”

Pumpkin potential?

Pumpkin and eggplant sambal with tuna mas huni

Jones also highlights the potential of kopee fai – a type of leaf found throughout Maldivian cooking – with the spotting of unusual condiments a real feature of his recent trip.

“The Maldivians love sambal (an Indonesian chilli sauce) and like to add masmirus, kopee leaves and Maldivian chilli, as well as fried drumstick leaf, like condiments,” he explains.

“They also like to add these ingredients to their fish curries and their pumpkin curries which are so deep flavoured and delicately spiced.

“Pumpkins are usually only used for Halloween, the occasional soup and the American pumpkin pie in the West, but it has been taken to new heights in the Maldivian pumpkin curry.

“It was probably the best thing I tasted and it’s a real staple for the Maldivian people.”

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