Keep calm and curry on

Keep calm and curry on

Down foodpath

Kerala fish curry

It’s probably not a shock to hear that a Malayali household often made fish curry at home. But that wasn’t the case with me.

For as long as I can remember, my mother didn’t make traditional Kerala food items at home — not too many, anyway.

Maybe it was the fact that we lived outside Kerala for most of our lives and at each place we adopted the local cuisines.

Also, unlike other Malayali households, my mother did not use coconut oil to prepare the food.

So whenever we travelled to Kerala, I found the taste of the coconut oil in food very odd. In fact, I didn’t like it at all because I couldn’t take the smell.

For me, coconut oil was only meant for your hair. And to make fish curry.

Yes, Kerala fish curry tastes awful if you don’t prepare it with coconut
oil. It also needs the earthen pot.

There’s something delicious about cooking food in an earthen pot, especially fish curry.

I didn’t appreciate Kerala cuisine till much later in my life. I was well into my teens when I discovered the joys of the Kerala cuisine.

When I was in the fifth standard, my dad was transferred to Kerala. We lived there for three years. My sister was put in a hostel and I lived at home.

We visited her every weekend. While I did not like the idea of going to meet her every week, there were two things I eagerly looked forward to — a bakery on the way that had lovely pastries and chicken rolls and a local fish market that sold fresh seafood.

The detour to the fish market was definitely more interesting.

Once we reached home, I would eagerly wait for my mother to start making the fish curry.

The house smelled all kinds of delicious when she made it.

There was nothing that made me more happy than when I had some hot steaming rice and the fish and ‘moru’ curries.

Occasionally, we would buy prawns and crab too. My mother would try variants of recipes that she’d read in magazines or watch on television.

I wasn’t a fan of seafood back in the day, but these memories stayed with me as I started living on my own and started cooking.

Fish curry also tastes better in the evening (if made in the afternoon). It’s a practice to serve the curry directly from the earthen pot.

And if you’re having it in the evening, you are expected to have it cold.

Till today, my mother disapproves that I heat the curry if I am having it for dinner (I’m not a fan of cold food).

The first few times I tried to make fish curry, it turned out to be a disaster. The thing with cooking in an earthen pot is that the liquid evaporates way too quickly. You have to keep an eye on it or it’ll get ruined within a blink of an eye.

Sometimes you’d end up adding more kodampuli (Malabar tamarind) and increasing the sour quotient.

In fact, it doesn’t take too long to or it isn’t complicated to make fish curry, but there are certain techniques and patience while making it.



Coconut oil, 2 tbsp

Mustard seeds, ½ tsp

Fenugreek seeds, ¼ tsp

Curry leaves, 2 sprigs

Ginger, ½ inch piece

Garlic, 4 cloves

Chopped shallots, 10

Green chillies, 2 slit

Turmeric powder, 1/4 tsp

Red chilli powder, 1 tsp

Coriander powder, 2 tsp

Eastern fish curry powder, 2 tsp

Salt to taste

Kodampuli, 2 pieces

Your choice of fish


Soak the kodampuli in a cup and keep it aside. It needs to be soaked in only for 15 minutes.

In an earthen pot, heat coconut oil and add the mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds and curry leaves.

Add the crushed ginger and garlic to the pot.

Add chopped shallots and green chillies.

Add salt. Saute till the onions become soft and start to brown.

Add turmeric, chilli, coriander and fish curry powder to the earthen pot.

Saute it for a couple of minutes or till completely cooked.

You’ll soon notice that streaks of oil appearing from the mixture. Add in half a cup of water.

Add the soaked kodampuli along with the water to the mix. Make sure that you do not squeeze the kodampuli.

Close the pot and let it simmer for about five minutes.

Add the fish slowly to the mix. Since fish is delicate, be gentle with it.

Cover the lid and let it simmer for six to eight minutes (depending on the fish).

The curry is ready to be served.