Off the west coast of India exists a tropical paradise which many Americans have likely never seen.
Idyllic scenes of white sandy beaches, swaying coconut trees, and clear, temperate waters sporting a hundred shades of blue come to life in these islands. Daily life is slow, the sun is hot, and everyone drives scooters, as the islands are too small for cars to be of much use.
This tiny island nation—the Republic of Maldives—boasts a unique culture, born of a blending of Arabian, Indian and Sri Lankan customs and language. The islands, and the life lived here, are unlike anything one could find in the States.
However, despite these differences, the Maldivians and residents of Imperial Beach have at least one thing in common—when we wake up, we’re hungry.
The Maldivians, traditionally engaging in fishing as their primary trade (until the 1970s when Italian tourists made the Maldives one of the top tourist destinations on the planet), consume the object of their time-honored careers with nearly every meal, breakfast being no exception.
While tuna for breakfast may seem a little on the exotic side to the American palate, the Maldivians have come up with a dish that is not only tasty and filling, but that manages to capture those two qualities every busy person hopes to find in a self prepared meal—it’s quick and easy.
Mas huni roshi, which is Dhivehi (the language of the Maldives) for "fish, coconut, tortilla," is as simple as its name implies, and is delicious to boot. For those looking to broaden their cultural and culinary horizons, follow along with the proceeding directions and enjoy a traditional taste of the tropics.
What you'll need (serves one):
- 1 can of tuna (in water) or an 8 oz. tuna fillet
- 8 oz. coconut (grated if available; if not, buy whole/chunks)
- 1 small onion, diced
- 3 1/2 oz. basil
- Salt, pepper, and garlic
- 1 1/2 oz. diced jalapeno, habanero, or chili of your choosing
- 1 lime
- 1 package of small flour tortillas
The beauty of mas huni roshi is in its simplicity. Here's how to prepare the dish.
- Dice the tuna, whether you have canned or fillet, and place it in a mixing bowl.
- If you found grated coconut, add the 8 oz. to the bowl. If not, dice the coconut you do have and add it to the bowl. Try to avoid flakes, as they lack moisture.
- Add the diced onion, the diced chilies, and the basil to the mixing bowl.
- Mix thoroughly.
- Add salt, pepper, and garlic to taste, and squeeze out each half of the lime over the mixture.
- Mix again.
- Heat up 4-6 small tortillas.
Traditionally, Maldivians eat using torn pieces of roshi (tortillas) to pick up portions of the fish. Due to the simple nature of its preparation, this dish lends itself to being made in bulk and refrigerated for multiple servings over the course of a few mornings. It was this very notion of having a breakfast that could last several days—or weeks—in a row that gave birth to mas huni roshi.
For centuries, Maldivians lived as fishermen, often leaving on fishing expeditions that would take days or weeks. Lacking refrigeration, the fishermen would sustain themselves by drying out fish using sun and salt, transforming the once slippery fish into a dry jerky, and collecting coconuts from the plentiful island trees.
The bitter taste of the coconut flesh calmed the bite of the heavily salted tuna jerky and added moisture to an otherwise dry meal. As coconuts and fish were abundant, this combination became the staple food of the fishermen.
Mohamed Abdulla Rushdee, a Maldivian cafe owner on the island of Hulhumale, attributes the evolution of the dish from simple jerky and coconuts to the signature Maldivian breakfast to a fisherman named Alibayya.
Abdulla, who prefers to go by Aby, said, "Alibayya was the first to make use of the other ingredients," adding onions and chilies. These are simple ingredients that can be found on many islands, and they do not quickly go bad.
"Eventually people started to make it [mas huni roshi] with fresh fish, and it became popular. However fishermen to this day still eat mas huni roshi in its traditional way, as dried fish and coconut while out at sea. It has been our food for centuries," said Aby.