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Tamarind Fish Head Curry

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Hey peeps! I know it has been a while since I’ve shared a recipe with you. Today, I am excited to present to you a very hearty Nyonya dish, the Tamarind Fish Head Curry!

tamarind fish head curry

Anyone who has been to South East Asia, specifically Malaysia or Singapore, would have at least tried and enjoyed this delicious spicy cuisine.

It is a popular dish among the locals and foreigners alike. If the name of the dish does not ring a bell, you might have heard or seen restaurants use a more localized name, such as; Assam Pedas Ikan, Gulai Tumis Fish, Spicy Tamarind Fish or Nyonya Gulai Tumis Fish.

fish head curry

During the early months of Covid era in Malaysia, our government implemented a lockdown order (MOC, Motion control) to control the spread of the deadly disease in the country. We were limited to the confined spaces in our homes as we were unable to visit restaurants as freely as we’d like to.

This has caused some of us, like my family, to crave dishes that we took for granted. One of the dishes I wanted to have so badly was this delicious hot spicy fish head curry that my mom used to cook when I was a child.

Coincidentally, since most restaurants were forced to stop operation, our neighbor, who owns a fish farm was kind enough to supply us with fresh garoupa. That was when I had the idea to use its head to cook this curry dish and use the remaining of its body to either steam or pan-sear.

Tamarind Fish Head Curry

scroll ⬇️ to get the recipe

Different from the chicken curry recipe I’ve shared previously, which is a dish commonly found in traditional Indian eateries, this rendition of curry was introduced and adapted by the Nyonya culture to suit the interracial and local taste buds.

Due to the Peranakans, or Baba-Nyonya, is a marriage between Chinese immigrants and locals (found in Malaysia, Singapore & parts of Indonesia); its cuisines are all jam-packed with flavors and variety.

tumis fish curry

Tamarind Fish Head Curry was said to be adopted from South Indian cuisine as the spices are widely used in Indian food. However, it is the fish head that brings out the specialty in this dish.

Unlike Indian curry dishes that use fish meat as its protein, fish heads are a well-loved protein amongst the Chinese race. Not only does it contain a higher percentage of omega-3 fatty acids to keep the brains and hearts healthy, but it is also filled with Vitamin A that is beneficial for the eyes.

Moreover, fish bones are known to enhance and bring out rich flavors. However, if you have difficulties finding fish heads, you may opt for fish meat as a substitute as well.

authentic fish curry paste

Authentic Recipe And Prepare From Scratch

I know you might not want to go through the hassle of buying all these ingredients since it’s very convenient to just head down to the store and get a ready-made packet of spices. But why not try to make it from scratch as a healthier option for yourself and your family? Now, are you ready to talk flavors?

That’s right, looking at the vibrant colors in the picture above, you might have already guessed that the most important element of this dish is the spices. If you are a first-timer on cooking with spices, worry not! I am here to help break it down and explain to you why each spice is vital in completing this dish.

homemade curry paste

Curry Spices

First up we have dried chilies; an ingredient that helps bring color to the dish and provides a strong kick to your taste buds. Another ingredient that is responsible for color is turmeric powder, a must-have ingredient in all curry dishes; that is filled with antioxidants which helps to maintain a healthy heart.

Next, we have galangal/lengkuas; this Thai/Siamese ginger gives off a much stronger taste compared to regular gingers due to its citrusy note. Alongside this spice is lemongrass, which is also an ingredient that provides an aromatic citrus scent to the dish.

cook curry from scratch

Now, onto one of the most authentic ingredients found in almost all Malaysian households; belacan, or better known internationally as, shrimp paste. It is a fermented paste that provides extra depth to the dish due to its salty umami flavor. Remember, a little of this goes a long way, so do pay close attention to the amount used.

Lastly, we have ginger flower buds; those bright pink & white flowers that are packed with antibacterial properties. Not only is it healthy, but its elegant appearance also acts as a perfect garnish for the spicy-sour fish curry dish.

homemade delicious curry paste

Appetizing and Yummy Delicious!

You must be salivating by now, right? This dish is not only aesthetically pleasing to the eyes, but it is also very appetizing due to its tangy and distinctive flavors.

Apart from all the spices and protein mentioned earlier, this pot of goodness is filled with healthy vegetables such as okras, tomatoes, and onions which provide balanced nutrition to one’s diet.

tamarind fish head curry

Trust me, be sure to prepare more rice when you decide to cook this dish as I’m sure its rich aromatic and tangy flavors will make you want more servings than you normally eat.

Let’s begin with the lesson on how to cook fish curry!

tamarind fish head curry

Tamarind Fish Head Curry

Yield: Serve 6 People
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Additional Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour

An appetizing & delicious Tamarind Fish Head Curry Recipe, cook from scratch. Make you want to have more serving of rice to go with it. A must keep mom's recipe for generations.

If the name of the dish does not ring a bell, you might have heard or seen restaurants use a more localized name, such as; Assam Pedas Ikan, Gulai Tumis Fish, Spicy Tamarind Fish or Nyonya Gulai Tumis Fish.


  • 1kg Garoupa Fish Head, Halved
  • 3 Tbsp Tamarind Pulp
  • 1 liter Water
  • 3 Tbsp Milk / Coconut Milk
  • 6 Tbsp Cooking Oil
  • 2 Onions, cut into wedges
  • 8 Lady's Finger / Okras, cut into halves
  • 2 Tomatoes, cut into wedges
  • 2 stalks Vietnamese Coriander
  • Salt & Sugar To Taste (Optional)

Spice A

  • 2 stalks LemonGrass (White Part only), smashed
  • 2 Ginger Flower Bud, Halved

Spice B (Ground)

  • 20 to 24 Dried Chilies, cut in half and soak in hot water, seeded
  • 5 Fresh Red Chilies, seeded
  • 24 Shallots (about 250g)
  • 5 cloves Garlic
  • 2 inches Galangal / Lengkuas
  • 25g Belacan / Shrimp Paste
  • 2 Tbsp Turmeric Powder


  • 1 bunch Mint Leaves
  • 1/2 Ginger Flower bud, sliced or chopped into small pieces


  1. Marinate Fish Head with salt, set aside, or, keep in the fridge if the weather is warm.
  2. Soak Tamarind pulp with water, strain to extract the juice.
  3. Ground Spice B with a food processor, add turmeric powder to the ground spices
  4. Heat oil and fry A (Lemongrass & Ginger Flower) until fragrant [A Pic]. Add ground spices and continue to fry in low flame until fragrant oil arise [B Pic]
  5. Pour in tamarind juice [C Pic] and add Lady's Fingers and Onions [D Pic]. Bring to boil.
  6. Add the fish head, tomatoes, and Vietnamese coriander [E Pic].
  7. Stir in milk [F Pic], bring to boil. Add salt and sugar to taste if needed.
  8. Dish out and garnish with mint leaves and chopped ginger flower. Served hot with rice.

Photos As Reference

tamarind fish head curryA Pic

tamarind fish head curryB Pic

tamarind fish head curryC Pic

tamarind fish head curryD Pic

tamarind fish head curryE Pic

tamarind fish head curryF Pic


You may replace the head with other parts of the fish.

Adjust the numbers of chilies in the recipe based on your preference. This is an Asian dish, it could be too spicy for some people.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 6 Serving Size: 6
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 334Total Fat: 17gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 13gCholesterol: 41mgSodium: 112mgCarbohydrates: 26.7gFiber: 5gSugar: 13gProtein: 21.8g

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