I love a good Fish Head Curry.
This one is from Banana Leaf Apolo, Race Course Road, Little India (and yes, the rich colour is as served):
The first place I experienced this delicacy was Krishna’s Fish Head Curry, near the ferry terminal on Labuan, East Malaysia. Labuan holds many fond memories for me – time spent with my late father before he passed away, footlong prawns (so called because they really are a foot long), excellent Chinese delicacies from the Tiara Hotel, duty free spirits, and the “I can’t believe it’s not chicken” vegetarian cuisine from the Global Hotel. The Fish Head Curry from Krishna’s was, from memory, the most expensive item on the menu at MYR8 (about SGD3) – by comparison, that was more than they charged for the biryani of the day plus lime juice for two people It was surprisingly good – rich curry sauce, fish head cooked well (perhaps a little overcooked by Singaporean standards, but very tasty nonetheless). So when I came to Singapore I had to try it anew.
“Are you nuts, Andrew? Is there any meat on the head?” you ask… and that is a good question. Yes, there is a lot of meat on a good sized fish head – it is usually cut just in front of the pectoral fins and so there is the equivalent to the shoulder of the fish, as well as the cheek meat.
And please be warned, there are bones. Yes, the fish is a vertebrate animal, and they contain bones. Sometimes, towards the end of the curry, you need to sift through a fair few bones to get to the meat. And this needs to be done carefully. This shot shows meal’s end for a decent sized fish head – and you can see a lot of bones there:
Like many Asian specialities, there are many claimants for the origins of Fish Head Curry. Apart from the usual Malaysia/Singapore food origin rivalry, there are people that claim that the Indian style absolutely originated in India. There is a counter claim that a famous Indian chef lived in Singapore for many years, developed Fish Head Curry here, then took it back to his native Kerala when he retired. All I can say for certain is that some of my Indian colleagues claim to have eaten similar curries a long time ago. For myself, with all respect, I have to say that I am completely colour blind when it comes to a good Fish Head Curry – the taste today is more important to me than who first made it sixty years ago.
Here in Singapore, like many other things, everyone has a favourite that they are willing to recommend. I seem to have settled on the Indian/Kerala style curry as distinct from other styles (although I am more than willing to be convinced otherwise – please leave a recommendation as a comment!). And for my money, it comes down to Muthu’s vs Banana Leaf Apolo – both have restaurants on Race Course Road in Little India, and both produce a fine Fish Head Curry – rich curry gravy, spicy but not overly so, plenty of meat on the head, okra to thicken it. I’ve seen people of all ages and cultural backgrounds enjoying it in both places. I have a slight lean toward Muthu’s because their dishes contain a little more curry sauce, and they also do a very good baked Tandoori Fish Head (a good centrepiece dish for a group dinner, and tasty besides). The rivals to Muthu’s and Banana Leaf Apolo that I have tried to date seem to get the gravy a little wrong (too spicy without enough flavour), or the fish is overcooked and dry.
I look forward to my next one