When I visited the Maldives as a scruffy backpacker I didn’t have a lot of money to spend.

My plan was to get to Fuvahmulah, the island closest to the equator, as quickly as possible. 

Down there you could get bed and board with a local family for $US5 a night. But in the meantime I was stuck in the capital, Male. 

I managed to find a ‘hotel’ for $US15 a night – expensive, but a snip compared to what the resorts were charging. 

Finding something affordable to eat proved more challenging. 

Most of the dining options were aimed at day trippers from the resort islands and were priced accordingly. 

But I’d heard about cafes where the locals ate – confusingly known as hotels – and set off in search of one.

My favourite was the Hotel Dhanbuma. It was hidden behind a pair of blue shuttered saloon doors and gave no indication of what lay within.

Visiting western honeymooners walked straight by.

Inside groups of local men sat around laminate tables.

They picked at plates loaded high with curry puffs, fish cakes and a cornucopia of other Maldivian treats. 

After you’d finished, a waiter came over, counted up how many of each item you’d had and toted up your bill. 

It was never more than a couple of bucks.

And the bill was presented on a plate bearing a packet of Benson & Hedges Gold and everything you need to prepare yourself a hit of betel nut.

30 years later, the Hotel Dhanbuma still remains one of my greatest travel discoveries.