Island flavours at The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands: Best-selling cookbook author Rachel Khoo’s foray into Maldivian cuisine
The Indian Ocean islands of the Maldives have long been known as an idyllic beach destination. With over 1,000 coral islands surrounded by turquoise waters, the Maldives lures travellers with the promise of seclusion, relaxation and luxury. Yet beyond the picture-perfect beaches lies a rich and vibrant local culture and cuisine waiting to be discovered.
Best-selling cookbook author and TV presenter Rachel Khoo got a tantalising taste of authentic Maldivian island life and food traditions during a recent visit to The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands resort. Though best known for her books exploring regional cuisines like French and Nordic, Khoo relished the chance to dive into a lesser-known food culture.
Khoo’s journey into the world of gastronomy traces back to the very roots of her upbringing, a tapestry interwoven with Malaysian and Austrian culinary heritage. As she shares her passion for food, her eyes sparkle with an infectious enthusiasm. “I love food,” she says, tracing her affinity for gastronomy back to her familial ties and the intrinsic role food played in her upbringing. “In Malaysia, they don’t ask, ‘How are you?’ It’s always, ‘Have you eaten yet?’ It’s a part of my heritage.”
“I love food. It brings people together,” she explained about her passion for cooking. “Food writing is such a varied job. I get to travel the world, meet people, and discover their stories. Being able to explore different flavours – it’s a dream.”
Her approach to unravelling new cuisines is steeped in the human connection. “Nothing beats that in-person, old-fashioned, ‘I meet you, how are you?’ – getting to know the person and cooking with them,” she says. For Khoo, authenticity resides in the stories of the everyday cook, the unspoken heritage passed down through generations, which often finds its way into her cookbooks.
During her stay in Maldives, Khoo embarked on several excursions to experience Maldivian cuisine first-hand. A highlight was visiting the bustling fish and produce markets in the capital city of Malé. Khoo described the sights, sounds and smells of the market as insightful for understanding local ingredients and food customs.
She was particularly struck by the diversity of fresh seafood like tuna and by the many coconut products, from creamy milk to shredded drieds. “I love that! I mean, all the fish—some of them I’ve never seen before. That was amazing,” Khoo said.
Back at the resort, Khoo worked alongside the chef team to prepare traditional Maldivian dishes using local produce. She learned how seemingly simple ingredients like chili, tuna and ubiquitous coconut are transformed into complex curries, salads and desserts.
“The chilli – I tried a little bit – was so spicy, very fruity, and incredibly flavoursome. And the tuna is truly exceptional,” Khoo commented on tasting the local specialties. “Everything I’ve eaten has been delicious,” she enthuses, commending the seamless fusion of seafood and coconut that graced every dish.
Beyond savouring new flavours, Khoo emphasised the value of personal connections when exploring a novel cuisine. “Ideally, I like to meet people. I think that’s the most interesting part – making a human connection,” she explained.
By cooking and sharing meals together, Khoo gained insight into Maldivian food traditions. She especially appreciated meeting home cooks and chatting with chefs about adapting recipes.
“I’m interested in the stories that might not get written about—like a grandma who’s been making this pastry for decades, unknown to many,” she said. Khoo found this less polished but more authentic style of cooking to be an eye-opening window into true local cuisine.
Her experiences during her stay at The Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands were nothing short of delightful. She extolled the chefs’ generosity and accommodation of her baking and cooking classes, despite the challenges of navigating a busy kitchen. “It doesn’t feel like work here,” she says with a smile.
For any visitor seeking to discover Maldives beyond the postcard-perfect beaches, Khoo recommends embracing the country’s distinctly flavoured and coconut-infused dishes. By connecting with locals over shared meals, travellers can gain a richer understanding of this tropical island nation.