Eating in Style in the Maldives

If you’re looking for a decadently tasty daydream to drool to, we’ve got just the ticket.

The Maldives has long been the leader in luxury resorts, and Soneva Fushi has long been right up the top of the list. And sure, there’s a bunch of breathtaking overwater retreats, but where Soneva has taken it to a new level in recent times is its dining options.

Soneva has added Out of the Sea to it’s list of restaraunts, the appropriately restaurant sitting literally on the water, where you can probably spot some of tomorrow’s seafood swimming beneath you. You literally can’t get any fresher than that.

The restaurant, like other offerings at the resort, features award-winning chefs serving mainly Mediterranean flavours, wok-fried dishes and tapas-inspired light bites. There’s also an intimate, rustic style of luxury that makes you comfortable straight away. 

The restaurant has recently opened, and adds to the 11 other tasty dining experiences on offer at the resort. We’ve selected our five favourites – check them out below:

Soneva Fushi, Maldives top five dining experiences

Ancient Okinawa

As well as being one of the world’s most underrated dive spots, and home to awesome wilderness retreats and delicious food, there’s also plenty of history in Okinawa Prefecture.

For almost 500-years, Okinawa and its surrounding islands were part of the Ryukyu Kingdom. This Kingdom once ruled from south of Kyushu in southern Japan, all the way down until (but not including) Taiwan.

Zakimi-jo Castle. It is estimated that there were once as many as 5000 castles total in Japan.

The historic era saw the Ryukyuans become prosperous, a key cog in the maritime trading route of Asia, traders, with evidence in 2022 to be found in the series of pretty epic castles that you can actually go and visit.

get lost have found the three best gusukus on Okinawa Island for you to step back in time in.

Katsuren-jo Castle site

The Pacific Ocean sandwiches Katsuren-jo Castle on two sides, which would have created a formidable lookout in the 13th to 14th century when it was built. Nowadays, it has lost its defensive purpose but retains its domineering beauty. In 2016, both Ottoman and Roman Empire currency was dug up at Kasturen, a nod to Okinawa’s status as a major maritime player.

Visit Katsuren

Katsuren is near Uruma, on Okinawa Island’s east coast.

Nakijin-jo Castle site

Nakijin Castle was seemingly built in the 13th century with tourism in mind. You can actually walk along the top section of the castle and you’ll get some pretting incredible views of the forest and surrounding ocean, and Japan’s famous cherry blossoms bloom around the castle in January and February. Nakijin changed hands a few times in history and was actually burnt to the ground in 1609. It’s size is seriously impressive for the era in which it was constructed.  

Visit Nakijin

Nakijin-jo Castle has pretty impressive views whichever way you look.

Zakimi-jo Castle site

Zakimi Castle’s walls were built so strongly in 1420 that you can still walk along them today. It’s pretty special to be able to admire the handiwork of masons, whose work has withstood several hundred years of civil war. There’s also a vreally interesting, informative museum on site, the perfect place to learn more about the gusuku and Okinawa’s rich culture and history.

Visit Zakimi

Zakimi from above.

Stay in a Japanese wilderness

Looking for a city getaway? We know a few places in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Okinawa is a prefecture of Japan comprised of a group of islands in the East China Sea. It isn’t as heralded as a tourist destination as some of Japan’s other star attractions, despite the stunning beaches and dense jungles that comprise it.

Getting close to nature and feeling its connection lure you closer to Earth is what a holiday in this part of the world is all about. With this in mind, a Shinminka Villa is the perfect place to base yourself, be that for a short time or an extended stay.

Shinminka Villas are four almost identical timber villas spread out across Okinawa’s islands that follow traditional Okinawan minka folk house design. With entirely transparent outer walls, this simple but aesthetically pleasing accommodation allows you to blend in as part of the natural environment during your stay. Within the confines of the humble timber design, there’s no shortage of places to relax: there’s a large bathtub, as well as a hammock, and there’s one villa with a pool as well.

Kicking back, surrounded by your own garden or jungle or beach, isolated in your own little world, is arguably as good as island life gets. One is also an extension of the island’s oldest ryokan, making it easy to reconnect with your body as well as the island. Okinawa and it’s surrounding islands are characterised by a variety of terrain and geography; a patchwork of waterfalls and rivers, jungles and mangroves.

Hiking and swimming are aplenty in these parts if you wish, but so is relaxing, in your own little intimate slice of Japanese wilderness.

Nakijin Castle is a 14th century castle ruins nearby to Shinminka.

Japan’s best kept underwater secret

Japan is home to some of the world’s best diving and snorkelling – if you know where to find it.

On land, everyone knows about this country’s delicious street food, powder snow, cultures that date back thousands of years and extraordinary outdoor experiences, but there is also plenty to be found underwater as well.

The Kerama Islands are one big national park, comprising of 36 islands, populated by just under a couple of thousand people. We don’t know what the true population of colourful fish swimming in schools and dancing in and out of reefs, dodging seaweed and hiding behind colourful coral, but go underwater for even just a few minutes and your perception of Japan will change forever. There are about 250 species of fish in the islands, humpback whales, manta rays as well as one other major drawcard: sea turtles.

From May through to September/October is the best time to see sea turtles in the Kerama Islands.

These big, friendly beasts live to up to 70-80 years in this part of the world. As you’re swimming in Kerama’s exceptionally blue waters, it’s mind blowing to think that the gentle green beasts in front of you were probably around in 1972, when the Okinawa prefecture was returned to the Japanese from the U.S., who had ruled the area for almost three decades. Or when Japan emerged as an economic superpower in the 1960s, or when they hosted the Olympic games in 1964 and 2021, or throughout any of this country’s major historic events over the last half-century and a bit.

And as they swim serenely in thrillingly clear turquoise waters in front of you – oblivious to any of those happenings – you’ll think that they’ve probably had the right idea all along.

get lost’s top four Kerama Islands diving spots:

  1. Zamami Island

    An array of beginner to advanced diving spots, drift diving and cave diving, with schools of migratory fish, gorgeous coral and more. Epic.

  2. Ijyakajya

    If you want to see sea turtles, this spot on Aka Island is where to come, between the months of May and October. Also plenty of manta rays, who gather to be cleaned by the other sea life there.

  3. Tokashiki Island

    The caves located beneath Aharen Lighthouse create an epic light display.

  4. Onna Village

Onna Village has the nickname ‘Coral Village’ for a reason. Check it out below:

Holi Festival: How to Make Prawn Curry

Anjum Anand is a British/Indian chef, writer, entrepreneur and TV presenter who knows her way around a curry.

The Hindu festival Holi (March 17 & 18 in 2022) marks the beginning of the spring season. It is also known as the festival of colours and is famous for people rubbing coloured powder into one another. 

Anand, who has been dubbed the ‘Nigella Lawson of Indian cuisine’, says food is right at the centre of Holi, as well as colour.

Anjum Anand is a celebrity cook who has been on SBS, BBC and more.

“Street food is very much at the forefront of Holi celebrations as people roam the streets of India celebrating the day,” she says. 

“Some of my favourites are pakoras, samoas, dahi bhallas (which are a lentil dumpling smothered in seasoned yoghurt and served with a chutney)…depending on which region you are in, the food will vary slightly.”

Ananad has  for a few absolutely DELISH looking prawn curry you might see if you’re going to a Holi celebration so that you can have a go yourself, and do not quite as well as the pros:

Anjum Annad’s Prawn Curry

Prawn Curry

SERVE SIZE: Serves 2-3

PREP TIME: 10 minutes  

COOK TIME: 10 minutes 

ANJUM SAYS

“Prawn curry in Goa is one of the regions favourite dishes, a spicy, flavourful curry with the base of coconut and soured with tamarind to elevate the succulent local prawns – but you don’t have to be in Goa to enjoy the flavours!”

INGREDIENTS:

1 pack The Spice Tailor Keralan Coconut Curry

360g king prawns, shelled and cleaned

1 rounded tbsp tomato purée

¾-1 tsp tamarind paste

1-2 tbsp veg oil

Goan Spice Mix

1-2 dried red chillies, soaked – Including the one from the pack

3/4 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp coriander seeds

1/4 tsp black peppercorns

2 cloves

METHOD:

Grind all the spices into a smooth powder. Then, add the chillies and a little water to help.

Heat the oil in a pan and fry this paste for 1-2 minutes, and add the tomato purée and stir for another minute.

Pour in the Keralan Coconut Curry from the pouch, stir and add a splash of water. Simmer for 3-4 minutes.

Add the tamarind paste and king prawns.

Cook for 2 minutes until the prawns are just cooked.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Anjum Anand (@anjum_anand)

Is this the best sandwich in Sydney?

Warning: Don’t read on if you’re counting carbs.

Smalls Deli, a small, chic-looking Potts Point-based deli, are arguably making Sydney’s best sandwiches right now.

Smalls opened at the inopportune time of January 2020, a few weeks before the pandemic began. Not ideal, but it is then a testament to the deliciousness of their sangas that they have bounced back so impressively.

Nearby Iggy’s make the bread, but it’s what’s on the inside counts. You want to order the Croque Monsuier: double-smoked ham, liquid gruyère and comte cheeses, bechamel sauce and tangy dijon mustard all jammed inside a couple of the legendary baker’s sourdough. On top is sprinkled a light amount of another sort of cheese, in case there wasn’t enough on the inside.

Small’s is a place for all occasions: whether you’re catching up with some mates,  desperately need a hangover cure or you’re going on a date – you can’t go wrong.

Just bring a calculator…for those delicious carbs.

The Clash Of The Gods

Japanese men battle for dominance, blessings and the approval of the Gods at Himeji City’s Fighting Festival.

Yoiyasa, Yoiyasa, Yoiyasa! (look to God and prosperity)” the crowd of almost naked Japanese men shouted energetically. They are carrying a two-tonne yatai, a portable Shinto shrine where the spirit of the local God resides. Despite their scantily clad dress and the cool breeze of the Autumn night, their faces glimmer with sweat and their brows are deep in fury as adrenaline pumps through their bodies. They are getting ready for a battle and from the looks of sheer determination on their faces, it is clear that no one was going down without a fight.

I’m about to witness the grand show at Himeji City’s Nada no Kenka Matsuri (Fighting Festival), a unique Japanese festival centred around brawling and wrestling. Yep, you read that right. A festival in Japan all about violence. When my Japanese friend invited me to her hometown to witness an epic battle, I was confused and very intrigued. The Japanese are known to be polite, reserved and respectful. Definitely not the type of people to let their emotions run high and battle it out with violence. Right? 

Wrong. During Autumn, the country hosts a range of Shinto fighting festivals. This one in Hyogo Prefecture is the largest and most famous of them all, drawing in crowds of approximately 100,000 people annually pre COVID. Contrary to the traditional Autumn festivals, where local Shinto Gods are taken from their shrines for a stroll around the neighbourhood for good luck and prayers, this one is a bit different. The Gods, as well as the men of Himeji City, are preparing for the monumental combat of the year tonight. 

Every year on October 14th and 15th, the seven districts of Himeji City come together to participate in some good ole friendly neighbourhood competition. Each part of town transports their local God to battle on a yatai which is dressed up in a colour that represents their district. The shrines are slammed amongst each other unforgivingly in an extraordinary act of dominance until a winner is left standing. It is so dangerous and rowdy that people have been seriously injured – some have even died in the past.

Terasaki Yoji, who has been partaking in the festival for almost 40 years, describes the event as a great source of local pride. “Participating in the festival makes me want to pass on this special ancient tradition to the future generations and beyond. Everyone from Himeji is very excited to join the event and it is a great honour to be able to represent your community.” Young boys from the city, although too young to carry the portable shrine, cannot wait to carry on the legacy of their families and to pay homage to their roots. 

I stand there watching as another group of men with another yatai and different colour headbands, representing another part of town, pass by me. I am half in shock and half in awe. In a country where people dress modestly and conservatively, it felt strange to see Japanese men wear barely anything except for a fundoshi. This piece of loincloth, similar to what sumo wrestlers wear, left their butt cheeks hanging out and baring all. There are so many butts. I am not sure where to look, or, where not to look. My eyes dart around the unusual scene unfolding before me.

Up close, the yatai’s intricate details stood out clearly and could not be missed. It is no wonder that each float takes several years to put together and requires the expertise and attention of specialised carpenters and craftsmen. Each portable shrine is decorated extensively with delicately handcrafted symbols, motifs and carvings representing the local district’s residential God and stories from ancient legends. The shrine jostling before me was carrying the God from Matsubara shrine, the symbol of the dragon crest donning the top of the structure plus the red dress of the float and the men gave it away.

Inside the yatai sit four taiko drummers, noriko, who are dressed in impressive kimonos, just as detailed as the yatai. Their arms swing in excellent synchronisation with each other, providing the non-stop soundtrack for the night. “It is said they have the hardest job of all!” my friend joked. “Noriko don’t have a break and drum on throughout the whole night, even when the shrines fall in the battle.” Yatai are truly a testimony to Japan’s emphasis on fine attention to detail and the country’s constant strive towards excellence.

As the men carry the shrine towards the battleground, they jostle it in an almost dance-like motion. They move it side to side and up and down to amuse and excite the God inside. Occasionally the shrine would drop to the ground with a loud thud, giving the men a well-deserved break. Controlling such a heavy structure is not an easy feat – it takes the strength of approximately 75 grown and able-bodied men to transport the float. Much to my surprise, Terasaki explains, “Those who transport the shrine actually don’t practise beforehand. The person at the front of the yatai has a job of calling out the direction and the nobori (men who carry the shrine) match their movements to the instruction.”

As the final shrine makes its way over to the open-air amphitheatre in the valley nearby the Matsubara Hachiman Shrine, the scene of the ultimate battle, I head back to our prime viewing spot situated high above the battleground. Reminiscent of the Coliseum in Rome, the venue is jampacked with people from all 360 degrees. People rush back to their seats as the event was about to unfold, returning from the food vendors who line the entrance to the amphitheatre. The charcoaled smell of yakitori (grilled chicken) and dried squid, along with the buzz of excitement and anticipation whiffed through the air.  

On the battleground, the shrines begin bouncing up and down, up and down, similar to a boxer moving as he prepares himself before throwing the first punch at an opponent. Older men who are not physically able to carry the shrine carry pom pom sticks and surround the shrine on the battleground. They wave it up and down in fast and quick motions, getting quicker and quicker and foreshadowing the upcoming action. The shouting and chanting of the nobori grew in intensity. The sound of the taiko drums thunders louder and louder, ringing through the whole venue and my body. The battle of the year was about to begin.

As the shrines slam together (yatai-awase), my heart slams inside of my chest too. BANG. The sound of the slams vibrates throughout the amphitheatre. The men jammed the shrines towards each other. BANG. Ashes and dust kick off into the air, surrounding the clash. BANG. “The scene is said to represent the Gods fighting in heaven with the sound of the collision representing thunder. The more loud and rowdy everyone is, the more pleased the Gods will be.” my friend explains. 

The drums continue with even more intensity and the chants too. Screams, shrieks and gasps fill the air as the crowd watches on the edge of their seats. I never understood the exhilaration and rush of a live battle but I did now. The energy was contagious and the air was thick in suspense and excitement. Each collision built on the growing enthusiasm felt by everyone. In the midst of all this, the noriko continue drumming in such a beautiful and almost dream-like motion, never missing a beat. The shrines continue to jam into each other and the nobori keep chanting. There were no rules. In this grand event, pairs or sometimes even three yatai battle each other until all have fought, providing hours of entertainment until one is crowned the ultimate winner.

The whole amphitheatre echos as the shrine topple to the ground and the crowd of people around it disperse quickly, careful to not get hurt by the powerful floats.  I chuckle and think to myself – it turns out Japan isn’t that much of a quiet and peaceful country all the time. 

Sandboarding Mũi Né’s Epic Dunes

Vietnam will open its borders to the rest of the world from mid-March, in a move that the rest of the world is extremely excited about.

A hotpot of festivals, beaches, culture, beauty and food, not to mention interesting people, Vietnam is one of the must-go places for any traveller.

And while Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Nha Trang and the like are epic places, get lost is steering you away from the well-trodden path to another beach town on the southeast coast.

Mũi Né is a haven for travellers for fishing, kitesurfing, beachside chilling and its massive sand dunes.

Rent a board and go flying down the sand. The red dunes in town aren’t bad, but the white dunes slightly further out are the best.

When you’re done, grab a cold Saigon Red on the water’s edge in town – we doubt there’s anywhere else you’d rather be.

Take it easy, Brother

Ever watch Gilligan’s Island? This is your chance to go full-Gilligan.

The Philippines are made up of over 7,000 islands, but there’s tiny one in particular we at get lost are interested in. Brother Island is situated in the Palawan province, next to El Nido, the famously beautiful resort island.

Fortunately, you can escape the crowds while marooning on Brother, where you can rent the entire island for not that much. For AUD $539 you get the entire, picturesque white-sand island to yourself – that’s just AUD $33 per night if you get 15 of your closest brothers (and sisters) together. Now granted, it is a tiny island – you can kayak the entire circumference in half an hour – but we think the idea of having an epic beach to yourself for you and a bunch of mates is pretty cool.

Included in the price is a Filipino ancestral-designed house with a heap of bedrooms, a well-preserved jungle and bamboo forest, a coral reef that skirts the perimeter of the whole island, and some of the whitest sand you are ever likely to come across. You can also get three-meals a day for a little bit extra.

No Cutlery Required

A staple on breakfast tables across Sri Lanka, hoppers unite the bright flavours of this island nation in a mouthful, as Natasha Dragun discovers.

If you’re not a fan of washing up, then you’ll love making hoppers (appam), a nuanced coconut-based dish traditional to southern India and Sri Lanka that requires a few pantry staples and very ‘seasoned’ pan to prepare – and very little else.

I was introduced to a variety of this breakfast favourite almost two decades ago, sitting in a Tamil Nadu garden where peacocks crooned and tea was served by dapper bow-tied waiters. My order was string hoppers (idiyaapam): unctuous noodles made from rice flour fermented with coconut water, coconut milk and salt, before being moulded into palm-sized patties then steamed until they resemble wicker mats.

The surprisingly cloud-like parcels were the perfect pouch on which to rest tongue-numbing condiments: coconut sambol (freshly grated coconut, lime, red onion, chilli, Maldives fish flakes, black peppercorns, salt); lunu miris (a spicy paste similar to the former sambol, but minus the coconut); and a menagerie of curries and dahls with aromas I still dream of to this day.

I didn’t think it could get much better – until I landed in Colombo, the steamy Sri Lankan capital, and was tasted the crispier, pancake-like version of the dish.

Rather than being squished into a tangle of noodles, the appam edition of hoppers features a batter that is swilled around your cook’s seasoned (aka rarely washed) pan. The end result is a pearly pancake ‘bowl’ that can be pimped up with a fried egg (recommended) and then topped with all aforementioned accoutrements.

“Think of the pan like a complex painting,” says George, my guide on an Unmapped Travel tour around Sri Lanka. “The artist keeps layering and layering – they add and mould, and things develop and get better over time.” He’s not wrong.

Despite the limited number of ingredients involved and the short cooking time – just a couple of minutes in that magical pan – these breakfast baskets couldn’t get any tastier, or more textural. And it’s not just the cookware adding to the abundance of attitude: there’s plenty of skill in preparation.

The appam flour is customarily made by hand: rice is soaked for six hours before being pounded and then left to brew with palm toddy (fermented sap from coconut flowers) overnight. It’s then seasoned with coconut milk, whole eggs and salt to create a bubbling batter. Some rebels – like my Sri Lankan friend back in Sydney – dare to add a couple of Marie biscuits to the mixture, to give the concoction a malty note that caramelises into crispness around the edges. There’s also a dessert version suffused with smoky-sweet palm syrup.

Making hoppers in a Sri Lankan home is quite possibly the ultimate way to learn about this history of this hands-on dish, as I fast find out on the outskirts of Kandy in the tea-leaf-laced heart of the country. Here, in an eye-popping pink kitchen, the Kolitha family tell me how traditionally, hoppers were cooked at home over coconut-shell embers. The origins of the dish are a little mysterious, although American food writer and historian Gil Marks credits the original recipe to early Jewish settlers in southern India – around 2,000 years ago.

Today, the Kolitha family use the blue-hot flames of a gas stove to ensure the quick firing of the hopper batter in aluminium pans. They prepare the pancakes with deft-like precision while I watch, swirling one of the small, deep vessels over heat until batter spills over the sides, forming lacy, caramel-hued edges.

They then cover the pan to cook the pillowy portion that pools at its bottom – the spongy goodness where eggs are cracked to rest before being topped with black pepper. Coconut crunches in a mortar and pestle, fresh chilli is chopped, limes are squeezed. A quick clatter of crockery later, and the hoppers are stacked, steaming, in front of me. Fragrant, fresh and piping hot – this has to be the ultimate way to start the day.

GET IN THE KNOW

Got a sweet tooth? Sri Lankans do, too. Their dessert version of traditionally savoury hoppers sees a heaping of treacle, palm syrup or honey added to the batter. Best served with chopped bananas and milky tea.

An alcohol made from the sap of coconut flowers, toddy usually begins fermenting immediately after being collected by a palm ‘tapper’. Sweet and low in alcohol (around 4%), it’s often turned into jaggery (a type of sugar) or a stronger liquor.