Chinese-Style Fish Head Curry

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Preparation info

  • Serves


    • Difficulty


Appears in

Chinese Heritage Cooking

Chinese Heritage Cooking

By Christopher Tan and Amy Van

Published 2018

  • About

In Singapore’s multicultural milieu, dishes and cuisines fluidly absorb influences from each other. Although fish head dishes do exist in India (such as Bengali muri ghonto or fish head with dhal), Singapore fish head curry is said to have been invented around 1949 by an enterprising south Indian chef, Gomez, at his stall in Sophia Road. A Chinese restaurant, Soon Heng, started serving its own rendition just a few years afterwards. Today, Chinese cooks often steam the fish head before dressing it with curry gravy, but poaching it in the curry itself yields more flavour.


  • Meaty fish head, such as snapper or grouper 1, weighing about 1–1.5 kg (2 lb 3 oz-3 lb 4½ oz)
  • Salt for cleaning fish head
  • Fish curry powder Tbsp
  • Tamarind pulp 3 Tbsp
  • Cooking oil 120 ml (4 fl oz / ½ cup)
  • Large onion 1, peeled and chopped
  • Garlic 5 cloves, peeled and chopped
  • Ginger 25 g ( oz), peeled and shredded
  • Curry leaves 3 sprigs, plucked, stems discarded
  • Lemon grass 2 stalks, ends trimmed, leaving thickest 8-cm (3-in) only, bruised
  • Green chillies 1–2, halved lengthwise
  • Ladies fingers 10–12, trimmed and washed
  • Ripe tomatoes 3, cut into quarters
  • Long purple aubergine (eggplant/brinjal) 1, cut into 6-cm (2.5-in) batons
  • Thick coconut milk 120 ml (4 fl oz / ½ cup)
  • Evaporated milk 3–4 Tbsp
  • Sugar to taste
  • Salt to taste


  1. To clean fish head, remove all gill material and any blood. Place head in a large basin and rub it all over with salt. Cover with water, then let stand for 10 minutes. Rinse fish head very well to remove salt, then drain.
  2. Mix curry powder with about 3 Tbsp water to form a smooth paste, and set aside. Knead tamarind pulp with 500 ml (16 fl oz / 2 cups) water until pulp dissolves, then strain out seeds and fibres. Set tamarind liquid aside.
  3. Heat oil in a large wok over medium heat. When hot, fry onion for 2–3 minutes, stirring constantly, until softened and starting to brown at the edges. Add garlic, ginger and curry leaves and fry for 30 seconds, then add curry paste. Lower heat to medium-low and stir-fry for 2–3 minutes, until paste has thickened and smells cooked, and oil has resurfaced.
  4. Add lemon grass, green chillies, ladies fingers and tamarind liquid to wok. Increase heat to medium and bring mixture to a boil while stirring constantly. Carefully lower fish head into wok and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Add a little more water if necessary so that fish head is at least half submerged.
  5. Carefully turn fish head over and add tomatoes and aubergine to wok. Cover and cook for another 10–15 minutes, until fish is cooked through and vegetables are tender.
  6. Stir in coconut milk and evaporated milk and simmer for another 3–4 minutes, to allow flavours to mingle. Taste and adjust seasoning with sugar and salt. Serve piping hot with rice.