This spicy dish is a scintillating stew of curry cooked with vegetables and of course, the whole head of a fish.
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 1940s. Fish head is not considered an Indian ingredient, but to please his Chinese customers, restaurant owner M.J. Gomez—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.
To taste this local delight for yourself, check out this link.