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Passport & Plate - Saba’s Gulah Gulah

Australia | Monday, 27 January 2014 | 5 photos

There are no exact measurements for this recipe, as locals on Maroshi island cook from memory and adjust all flavours accordingly.

Ingredient for the Gulah Gulah filling:
Maldivian Tuna (1 large can drained – fresh fish is generally grilled and not used for fried dishes and smoked fish is for curries)
Onion (1 finely chopped)
Garlic (1 clove, finely chopped)
Chilli (2 – Locals on Maroshi Island like it hot)
Curry Leaves (2)
Pepper & Salt (to taste)
Lemon juice (to taste)

Ingredients for the Gulah Gulah shell:
Plain flour (1 cup)
Water (1/2 cup)
Oil (2 tablespoons + extra for deep frying)
Salt (1 pinch)


How to prepare this recipe
Prepare the filling:
1. Combine drained tuna, onion, garlic, curry leaves, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a bowl.
2. Shape the combined filling mix into small 1cm balls, set aside.

Prepare the dough:
1. Place the flour, salt and oil into a bowl.
2. Gradually add water and combine until you reach a dough-like consistency.

To make the Gulah Gulah balls:
1. Make a small 2cm ball of dough and flatten to create a thin concave patty.
2. Place your prepared filling in the centre and roll into smooth balls.
3. Deep fry until rich golden brown.
4. Drain oil and serve in a bowl for snack time.

The Gulah Gulah balls should be crunchy on the outside and full of spicy flavours on the inside. It is a much loved afternoon snack in the Maldives.


The story behind this recipe
Six months ago, I traveled to the remote Maldivian island of Maroshi to complete a volunteer teaching program. On this minuscule island measuring only 600m x 690m, is a close-knit community of fewer than 900 people. So when there is a celebration on the island, everybody on the island is invited to the school hall and everybody brings a dish.

Of the many dishes tried, gulah gulah automatically comes to mind when I think of my time on the sandy island. Looking in my travel journal, I’ve written “fish marbles”. I remember trying gulah gulah for the first time at my host family’s home. I had no idea what it was. The outside was a golden brown and the shell almost teeth breaking. But the crunch was met by an immediate explosion of chilli, spice and fishy flavour. The fish marbles were strangely addictive! For someone who cannot handle much chilli and spice, and I found myself eating more. The only cure to my burning lips was the sweet Maldivian style coffee.

Three weeks of island living changed my perspective on life and built my spice tolerance exponentially. Before I left, I asked one of my students to teach me how to make the popular local snack. Saba kindly invited me over to her home. Her mother in the local tongue demonstrated the making of gulah gulah and I followed her lead. Maldivians don’t cook by recipe or strict measurements; it’s all memory and taste. It was a joy watching her adjust the flavours and roll perfectly circular tuna filled dough balls. One by one, I dropped the marbles into the pan of hot oil. I was prepared to empty the entire plate into the pan. Saba’s mother stopped me and gestured to fry no more than five at a time as the oil would not remain hot if there were too many. Mothers know best, no matter what part of the world!

The island of Maroshi is far from home- 16hour flight plus a 45minute seaplane (or 12hour ferry for most locals) and another 30minute speedboat ride. For now, I can relive my memories by making gulah gulah at home.

About vivianyue

Making the dough for the gulah gulah in Saba's kitchen. A simple mixture of flour, water, oil and salt.

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