Fish ambul thiyal, malu ambul thiyal or as some call it ‘sour fish curry’ is a delicious way of preparing fish in Sri Lanka. Usually Southern part of Sri Lanka is popular for its Malu Ambul thiyal curry. This is why it is called as ‘Dakune malu Ambul Thiyal’. With roots to southern Sri Lanka, I always enjoy delicious malu ambul thiyal whenever I visit my relatives. Sadly, I didn’t know how to cook southern fish ambul thiyal until my recent Sri Lanka holiday.
Well, I’ve shared a recipe for ambul thiyal few years ago. In that recipe, I included chilli powder and raw curry powder as ingredients. These spices will dry roast before grinding with gamboge. That recipe is one of the ways cooking fish ambul thiyal in Sri Lanka which I learned from my mother in law. Though that ambul thiyal is a delicious dish, it never gave me the taste of ambul thiyal which I enjoyed in southern part of Sri Lanka. This is why I was curious on cooking this as my grandmother cooked.
Finally, I found the secret. In southern ambul thiyal, only goraka, black pepper and salt are used as main ingredients. When you have this paste with all tastes in balance, you can cook delicious fish ambul thiyal with its original unique taste. So, don’t be afraid of tasting your goraka paste before adding to the fish. Adjust salt if needed. Your ambul thiyal paste should give you a taste which is a mix of sour, hot and salty. If you get that, you are ready to cook ambul thiyal!
So, here is how I cook ambul thiyal now. I learned this from my mom recently and thought of sharing the recipe again.
In Sri Lanka, it is easy to find fish varieties such as Tuna (Bala malu) which is popular as fish type for ambul thiyal. But, any firm fish is suitable for this dish though final outcome will be different.
A clay pot is perfect for cooking a delicious ambul thiyal curry. Once cooked, you can easily keep this fish dish for few days without spoiling.
Tips to cook Fish Ambul Thiyal
1. In Sri Lankan cooking, there is no perfect way for cooking any dish. So, there may have small differences in Ingredients if you check the same recipe from different parts of Sri Lanka.
2. Don’t worry about any other ingredients such as cinnamon. They will add aroma and flavour. But, the main flavour is from goraka, black pepper and salt.
3. Taste your goraka, pepper and salt paste before adding to fish. In this step, you can adjust salt if needed.
4. Instead of pepper powder, use fresh black pepper corn. Freshly grounded black pepper will add more flavour to your curry.
5. Don’t worry about banana leaf though it adds aroma to your dish. If you can’t find banana leaf, use curry leaves to the bottom of the clay pot.You can use pandan leaf too. (Rampe)
6. While the taste of fish ambul thiyal is a mix of sour, hot and salty taste, the appearance should be in between black and grey.
So, below is the recipe for Southern style Sri Lankan Ambul Thiyal.
Recipe : Sri Lankan Southern Style Fish Ambul Thiyal
500g fish (Tuna is most suitable)
½ onion – sliced
8 tablespoons black pepper
10 – 15 pieces gamboge (goraka)
2-3 cloves of garlic
3-4 sprigs of curry leaves
1 inch piece cinnamon
salt – to taste
Step 1 (preparation)
Add gamboge (goraka pieces) to a cup of warm water and leave aside. Gamboge will soften in hot water till the other ingredients are prepared. This step will also remove any sand that is with Gamboge. (If any)
Wash and cut fish into big bite size pieces. (Usually 1-2 inches)
Keep the fish pieces in a saucepan.
Step 2 (preparing the paste)
Remove gamboge from hot water, wash once to remove any dirt.
Now grind all the ingredients into a paste including Gamboge (goraka). This paste will look black once grounded. It includes Goraka, black pepper and salt. Add salt as per your taste. Also add some water when you grind and prepare this as a thick creamy paste.
Step 3 (Cooking)
Fish Ambul Thiyal is delicious when you cook it in a clay pot.
Add a piece of banana leaf to the bottom of clay pot. If you live in another country and if you can’t find banana leaf easily, then don’t worry. Still you can cook delicious Fish ambul thiyal without a banana leaf.
On top of banana leaf, add a layer of curry leaves.
Then add few spoons of the goraka and pepper paste on top of it.
Now add a layer of fish pieces without breaking those.
Add the goraka and pepper paste on top & add any remaining fish after this layer of paste.
Add some curry leaves on top of the fish.
Add the cinnamon stick.
Cover and cook the fish in medium heat till the gravy become dry or thick.
Do not stir as that will break the fish.
After about 8-10 minutes, fish ambul thiyal is done.
Check and adjust salt if need.
Usually Fish ambul thiyal is a dry dish which has no gravy. But, if you prefer to taste it with a bit of gravy, you can remove the dish from the heat before the gravy is dry.
Finally, fish ambul thiyal is ready to serve with plain rice.
If you try this recipe, don’t forget to leave me a comment with your experience. I love to hear from you.
Note: The final appearance of my fish dish may look different from Sri Lankan malu ambul thiyal as I used different kind of fish which I find in Singapore.