Inle Lake lamb curry


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


Appears in

Food and Travels: Asia

Food and Travels

By Alastair Hendy

Published 2004

  • About

Heavenly lamb dumplings in a punchy tomato sauce - sort of mum’s meatballs go comfortably into Asia. I scoffed it daily on Inle Lake: a vast tract of water that supports various villages around its shores - on land, and on stilts, complete with floating gardens. The villagers lead the Life of Pi, on the water with their livestock. Fish plop, dragonflies hum, and insects buzz all day long around waters dappled with Hockney squiggles and abstractions aplenty. The place of escape. Mick Jagger was here one week before I visited - furious when at last somebody recognized him.


  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cm piece fresh root ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 sticks lemongrass, trimmed and chopped
  • 500 g lamb mince
  • 2 fresh red chillies, deseeded
  • a bunch of fresh coriander
  • salt
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tsp cornflour
  • peanut oil
  • 2 tsp each of paprika and dried chilli flakes
  • 1 tbsp dried shrimp, chopped, or 1 tsp shrimp paste
  • 1 x 400 ml can chopped tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp tamarind water, or 2 tbsp lemon juice and 1 tbsp water


Blitz the onion, ginger, garlic and lemongrass to a pasty mush in a processor or, if feeling energetic and in ethnic mode, pulverize in a mortar. Break up the mince in a bowl then squeeze the onion paste over the bowl, so that some of its juice trickles out and into the meat. Keep the onion paste on one side. Finely chop the chillies and about half of the coriander - this can be done in the processor too - and toss with the meat. Then chuck in 1 tsp salt, 1 tbsp fish sauce and the cornflour and tumble again. Form into walnut-sized balls, then chill until firmed. Fry the meatballs in 3 tbsp of oil until browned all over, then leave to drain.

Meanwhile, gently fry the paprika powder, dried chilli flakes and shrimp in the same oil, until the oil reddens a little. Slip in the pulverised onion paste with a sprinkling of salt and fry until browned. Tip in the chopped tomatoes, then fill up the empty can with water and put it by the stove. Add the tamarind water and the remaining 1 tbsp fish sauce to the pan, stir through and bubble up to a splutter, then turn down the heat and let it gently rumble for about 20 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Add the water from the can in dribs and drabs as things start to thicken, and season again. It should end up dark and rich looking - a bit like a chilli con carne, yet darker. Then pop in the meatballs, dunking them under, and cook at a gentle pace for a further 10 minutes or so. If things start to look dry, add a dash of water. Serve awash with chopped coriander, and with rice on the side. Table pickles, and a little wheel of veg and herb on a platter could come into play too here.