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How to Cook Malay-Style Fish Curry

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Originally from Malaysia, Liza currently lives in the U.S. with her husband. She loves cooking, baking, photography, and traveling.

Yummy mackerel fish curry!

Yummy mackerel fish curry!

Malaysia Signature Dish

Fish curry, one of Malaysia's signature dishes, is one of my favorite meals to cook at home. This dish is widely popular and is served every day in Malaysian restaurants and at the Mamak stalls. People love the intense flavor of the curry paste, spices, and coconut milk. It's interesting to note that although the weather in Malaysia is hot and humid, we love eating spicy food! It is part of our food culture.

Learned To Cook From My Mother

I think everyone has someone that they look up to in many things. For me, my mother is my mentor in the kitchen. For example, I learned to cook fish curry from her. She taught me which type of fish to use, which spices to add, why fresh coconut milk is better than canned, and how to add kerisik (desiccated coconut) to make the curry creamy and nutty.

Type Of Fish To Use

The best fish to use for this dish is ikan tongkol, or tuna mackerel. This dark-fleshed fish is very commonly used in Malay cooking. Unfortunately, after I moved to the United States, I had trouble finding this type of fish.

However, I was determined to cook this dish, and I hoped that I could find a suitable substitute. Eventually, I found Korean mackerel fish in an Asian market near my house. I was very happy to be able to cook this dish once again.

Let's see the full ingredients:


  • 1 pound mackerel (cut into chunks)
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons tamarind paste
  • 4 cups coconut milk
  • 5-6 pieces curry leaves
  • 2 tablespoons fish curry powder
  • 3 tomatoes (wedges)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 scallions (thinly sliced)

For making the paste:

  • 4 dried chilies (seeded and chopped)
  • 1 inch ginger
  • 1 inch fresh turmeric
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 3 shallots (or half of an onion)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorn
  • 1 tablespoon kerisik (desiccated coconut)
  • 1/2 cup water


  1. Combine the dried chilies, ginger, turmeric, garlic, shallots, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and black peppercorn in a blender with water. Blend until it forms a paste.
  2. In a pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Throw in curry leaves, followed by the paste. Stir-fry until fragrant.
  3. Add the fish curry powder. Stir-fry until the oil surfaces up from the paste.
  4. Throw in the fish and cook for 3 minutes on each side.
  5. Add the coconut milk, stir, and let it simmer for 5 minutes.
  6. Add the tamarind paste and salt. Don't forget to taste!
  7. Reduce the heat and let it simmer for another 5 minutes, or until the fish is cooked.
  8. Lastly, add the tomatoes.
  9. Place the curry into bowls for serving.
  10. Garnish with scallions. Serve with steamed white rice or roti.

© 2018 Liza