The squeamish will squirm at the sight of puffy cheeks and bulging fish eyes surrounded in a sea of red gravy. Yet, for many, it is a visually appetising feast - usually eaten with rice to soak up the fragrant curry.

Fish head curry is unique to Singapore, the epitome of a cultural melting pot. It mixes the spices of a typical South Indian curry with the fish head, a delicacy among the Chinese.

Every ethnic group here has its own version of the dish, with slight variations to the curry. Some mix in tamarind paste for a tinge of sourness, others add coconut milk for a creamier texture.

The only similarity is the head of a fleshy Red Snapper swimming in a pool of spicy gravy, along with a mix of vegetables such as okra (lady fingers) and egg plant.

A head start

Fish head curry was created in the kitchen of a small Indian restaurant in the 1960s. Fish head is not considered an Indian ingredient, but to please Chinese customers who love it. A restaurant owner from the Southern Indian state of Kerala blended Indian curry with the Chinese favourite fish head.

The result was a hit. Today, it is on the menu in Indian, Chinese, Malay and Peranakan restaurants, often served still bubbling away in a large clay pot. Fish aficionados will proclaim that the cheeks have the best flesh, and the eyes are a treat.