International Restaurant Review: Tribal, The Maldives
Tribal’s welcome drink dawa literally translates as ‘medicine’ in Swahili – and it does feel decidedly restorative. This vibrantly fresh mix of ingredients, including ice, lime and brown sugar crushed in your cup with your own mortar, can be enjoyed around the al fresco restaurant’s camp fire before you take a table beneath tepee-like tented domes.
As Niyama island's bats and crows fly overhead, succulent meats are cooked, hour after hour, in African cast iron potjies that look like witches' cauldrons swinging over open fires between the tables. With such a dramatic setting you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled onto the set of a Wes Craven film, but the mood here is never macabre with hosts that are full of smiles.
Restaurant Manager Justus Obiero is from Kenya and stands as a shining ambassador of the country's warm hospitality. Head Chef Ken Gundu is from Botswana and happy to share his culinary journey, which has taken him from the luxury safari lodges of Africa to the pre-Columbian Meso-American tribal lands of Central America; as such there's also a touch of American tribal influence with roast plantains, refried beans and ‘asado grills’ – the barbecue of choice in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.
With such qualified staff, it's little wonder Tribal offers such an authentic experience. A very helpful glossary at the back of the menu explains the exotic terms you'll encounter, such as dukkah, a mix of herbs, spices and crushed pistachios or hazelnuts, used as a dip for bread or veg, or as a rub for meat. Then there’s monkey gland sauce. Thankfully no actual monkeys were harmed in the making of this sauce for ribs or chicken comprising onion, garlic, ginger, chutney, soy, mustard, ketchup and a splash of good old Worcestershire.
Gourmet can recommend the heart-warming comfort food bobotie. Seasoned mince and fruit topped with a creamy egg mixture, this is South Africa’s national dish. We were also tempted by the potjies – six-hour stews in the making – which can feature springbok or sticky braised Brahma bull beef cheek.
Most dishes come with a side of mielie pap, starchy mashed maize flour cooked with water to a dough-like consistency. This has been a staple across Africa for many generations, and in poorer countries affected by famine it’s been a life-saver. Sampling it can be a humbling experience.
Desserts are a more light-hearted fare; they range from Mexican banana and caramel coconut sorbet to steamed sweetcorn bread served in a maize husk with warm mixed berries. What a way to end a night!
Anyone from Africa will revel in the flavours of their ancestry, while gourmet travellers new to the cuisine will be overwhelmed by the range of flavours. The setting is special and the feast is plentiful without the theme ever bordering on kitsch.