A 30-year love affair with Masburi Riha: Malé’s iconic spicy tuna curry

Masburiha is served ready to eat. Photo courtesy: Moosa Rasheed (Avas).

With limited options for socializing in the capital, Malé, one of the most cherished pastimes for many residents is enjoying a delicious meal or a cup of coffee. In this city, a diverse range of cuisines, including Indian, Thai, Korean, Mexican, Japanese, Arabian, and Italian, is readily available, along with high-quality coffee. Despite these options, many locals still have a deep affection for one of the classic Maldivian curries known as “Masburi Riha” (Spicy Tuna chunk curry).

To savor this iconic dish, you must visit the traditional eatery known as “Faseyha Point,” also referred to as “Aiy Balhey Kada”. This quaint eatery lacks air conditioning, and the air can get rather hot and stuffy. It tends to be noisy and crowded. Nevertheless, it remains a popular choice for many, including the elites. What’s the secret that draws people to this place?

The allure of Aiy Balhey’s Masburi Riha lies in its spiciness. As the name suggests, this curry features substantial chunks of tuna and has a slightly thicker base. It’s typically enjoyed with Roshi, a Maldivian flatbread, and served alongside an omelet, papadam, and a piping hot cup of black tea – a culinary tradition that continues to captivate even the younger generation.

Surprisingly, this curry is a relatively recent addition to Maldivian cuisine. It was first prepared at a teashop called “Cemi Cool Spot” in the 1980s, crafted by the sister-in-law of the teashop’s owner, Fulooniya Kuda Huhthu. What set this curry apart were its bold spiciness and the generous portion of tuna. Eventually, the teashop relocated to its present spot, earning the nickname “Aiybalhey Kada,” a reference to Kuda Huhthu’s nickname. He was a devoted fan of the local football giant, Club Valencia. This association drew many Club Valencia enthusiasts to the teashop, further enhancing its reputation.

People at the Faseyha Point eagerly await their turn to be served the famous curry. Photo courtesy: Moosa Rasheed (Avas)

After relocating to a more functional eatery in the 90s, this place became a hit.

“There is always a queue outside, and we have to wait 30 to 45 minutes,” said a regular. “That’s the real place. The environment was so different.”

Today, the café is owned by Ahmed Shakir, who, once a collaborating partner, attests to its enduring popularity on its 30th anniversary. Now located in the upscale Majeedhee Magu area, the eatery’s profitability hinges solely on the sale of this beloved curry. According to Shakir, regular customers of his business don’t like tea and traditional snacks common in these types of cafés because, as he notes, “People don’t want anything else but this curry.”

While traditionally a lunch and dinner dish, Faseyha Point serves Masburi Riha for breakfast and even for afternoon tea, attracting government workers in the mornings and youths at night. Even some elite members of society, including businessmen, high-ranking government officials, and individuals from affluent backgrounds, frequent this establishment. Shakir mentions notable visitors, saying, “One time I saw one of the top restaurateurs and a general manager of a top resort come to eat… Even President (Mohamed) Nasheed came here during his presidency.”

So, is the only secret to this curry its spiciness? “No,” Shakir insists, “Even though we provide the spice paste, not everyone can replicate it. There are many other secrets to this curry, including our unique preparation methods.” They source special chili mixes from India, ensuring that the flavor remains consistent over the past 30 years. “That’s another secret,” Shakir adds.

Today, Faseyha Point has become a trendy spot that attracts even Gen Z patrons curious to experience the famous curry. One young visitor expressed their motivation, saying, “We always heard that this curry is special, so we wanted to try it.”

Despite the eatery’s somewhat less-than-optimal ambiance and atmosphere, those who appreciate the genuine taste of this fiery curry believe it’s best enjoyed in the midst of the café’s intense atmosphere, accompanied by a steaming cup of black tea.

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