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Malaysian Assam Fish Curry

Learn how to cook Malaysian assam fish curry that tastes just like the one served in Malaysian Mamak stalls. Don't forget to serve this with steamed rice.

One particular dish that one must try from a Malaysian Mamak stall is assam fish curry. It’s like the most delicious fish curry ever, on par with our own Indonesian style fish head curry. It has everything, spicy, sour, sweet, savory, and I can eat my rice just with this dish alone, and I might even have a second helping of rice! Believe me, it is that good. If you ever had the chance to visit Malaysia, be sure to order this dish. And for everyone else, give this recipe a try, then get ready to dig in.

Ingredients to Prepare Malaysian Assam Fish Curry.
Ingredients to Prepare Malaysian Assam Fish Curry.

What fish can you use to prepare assam fish curry

The fish that we most commonly use to prepare assam fish curry is Spanish mackerel. If you can find Spanish mackerel, you will want to buy them in steaks (4-5 pieces should be enough). Or if you managed to get fresh whole Spanish mackerel, you can get your butcher to clean and cut it into steaks for you. Some good alternative to Spanish mackerel that I have tried:

  • salmon steaks
  • tuna steaks
  • red snapper steaks
  • grouper steaks
  • rockfish fillets
  • tilapia fillets

For most people living in the United States, the easiest fish to use is probably tilapia fillets. And though it is different than the original, preparing assam fish curry with tilapia fillets is pretty tasty too, so do give this recipe a try even if tilapia is all you have.

Malaysian Assam Fish Curry.
Malaysian Assam Fish Curry.

What you need to prepare Malaysian assam fish curry

Aside from the fish, here are the rest of the ingredients that you need to get to prepare this fish curry dish:

  • okra
  • curry leaves
  • lemongrass
  • curry powder
  • tomato
  • tamarind
  • shallot
  • garlic
  • ginger
  • red chilies, such as fresno, serrano, or cayenne

If you cannot find okra, I have also tried making this dish with Thai green eggplant with great success. But note that okra has natural thickening properties, so if you do substitute, you may want to thicken the sauce with some cornstarch.

Malaysian Assam Fish Curry.
Malaysian Assam Fish Curry.

Malaysian Assam Fish Curry

5.0 from 8 reviews

Author: Anita Jacobson




Prep Time: 15 mins

Cook Time: 15 mins

Total Time: 30 mins

Serves: 4

Print Recipe


  • 4 tablespoon oil
  • 3 sprigs curry leaves
  • 2 lemongrass, bruised and knotted
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 tomato, cut into 8 wedges
  • 30 gram tamarind pulp + 1 1/2 cup water, mix well, strained
  • 4-5 Spanish mackerel steaks, or about 650 - 700 gram firm white fish fillet (e.g. red snapper, rock fish, tilapia)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 250 gram okra, cut into halves
  • Grind the following into spice paste
  • 50 gram shallots (Indonesian: bawang merah)
  • 3 cloves garlic (Indonesian: bawang putih)
  • 3 serrano/cayenne chilies (Indonesian: cabe keriting)
  • 1 inch ginger


  1. Heat oil in a wok on medium high and sauté spice paste until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add curry leaves, lemongrass, and curry powder. Mix well, and cook for another 2 minutes.
  3. Add tomato and tamarind liquid, bring to a boil.
  4. Add fish fillet, season with sugar and salt. Cook until fish is cooked through. Adjust taste as needed.
  5. Add okra, cook for another minute.
  6. Turn off heat, transfer to a serving bowl. Serve immediately with steamed white rice.
Indonesian Pantry
Indonesian Kitchen


  • Liana Liana says:

    I love your recipe.. Versatile, easy to follow and absolutely delicious!!!!

    • Anita Anita says:

      Thank you for the lovely comment, Liana :) I am happy you love the recipe.

  • Desiree Desiree says:

    Can add lemongrass candlenut and belacan and curry leaves and fried the fish first?

    • Anita Anita says:

      Yes, you can fry the fish first if you like.

  • Desiree Desiree says:

    I actually season the fish with salt and black pepper. Fried first the put in last to the curry. I also add belacan, candlenut.

  • Desiree Desiree says:

    And I use mackerel fish I think it taste better

  • Leah Leah says:

    Will the flavour be good if I don't use Okra?

    • Anita Anita says:

      It should be okay Leah. If you want to have some vegetables in it, you can try using eggplant instead of okra :)

  • Bintu | Recipes From A Pantry Bintu | Recipes From A Pantry says:

    What a delicious sounding curry! It sounds so flavourful and tasty - I don't have fish curry that often, I really should change that.

  • Emma Emma says:

    Such an aromatic sauce! Absolutely delicious!

  • Lauren Vavala | Delicious Little Bites Lauren Vavala | Delicious Little Bites says:

    I always use shrimp in curry so white fish is a nice change. Also love the addition of tamarind - so delicious!

    • Anita Anita says:

      Actually shrimps sound lovely too, Lauren. I'm almost 100% sure that this recipe will work with shrimps instead of fish. :)

  • Krissy Allori Krissy Allori says:

    This was so rich and full of flavor. I'm a big fan.

  • Megan Ellam Megan Ellam says:

    Such a good recipe Anita. Now I can use some of the curry leaves from my tree in another delicious looking recipe. Thanks for sharing.

    • Anita Anita says:

      I wish I have my own curry tree too, Megan. I'm just happy that my nearby Asian market always stocks fresh curry leaves so I never run out. :)

  • Adrianne Adrianne says:

    Wow this fish curry sounds amazing and the combination of ingredients to die for !! I love how authentic it is and the lemongrass sounds perfect!! Great work!

  • Lany Susanto Lany Susanto says:

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