NIRIN at Home: Fish Curry

Inspired by Breaking Bread - an artist collective who use food to bring people together and spark cultural dialogue - learn how to cook a fragrant fish curry

Inspired by an optimism for new utopias, Breaking Bread are a South African arts collective embracing community exchange through the customs, origins and ceremony of a shared meal.

About the Fish Curry Recipe

This recipe is a culinary recognition of the influence of Cape Malay food on South African cuisine that came about as a result of the Dutch colonisation and subsequent slave trade in South East Asia. This resulted in many political prisoners in the region being brought to the Cape of South Africa to serve as political exiles, prisoners or as slaves, in the sixteenth century.

The exiles and slaves who ended up in the Cape of Good Hope came to be collectively known as Cape Malay though their origins could be traced to places such as Madagascar, Macau, the Dutch East Indies (today, Indonesia), Philippines, East Africa and India.

This mixture of cultures has resulted in a deep fusion of traditional cuisines in the Cape that touches and influences every aspect of the culture of food and food preparation in this region.

The fish curry recipe utilises spices and cooking methods that were introduced into this region by the forced migration of diverse cultures and people.

What you will need

750 grams yellow-tail or swordfish (around 10-12 pieces)
2 onions, sliced
Cooking oil for pan frying fish
1 tablespoon salt

Spice paste:
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
5 teaspoons cumin seeds
Fresh curry leaves to taste
3 cm piece of fresh ginger
1 garlic clove crushed
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
1 medium red chilli
½ teaspoon turmeric powder

Tomato and Capsicum pepper sauce:
1 red capsicum
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 ripe tomatoes
1 tablespoon salt

To finish:
300 ml coconut cream
Fresh coriander as garnish
Juice of 1/2 lemon


1. Dry the fish pieces with a paper towel. Salt fish with 1 tsp salt at least an hour before cooking or salt it overnight, refrigerate and take out 1 hour before prep.

2. Preheat oven to 200°C. Cut tomatoes and capsicum in half, remove seeds and membranes. Place on a large oven tray skin side up and drizzle with 1 tbsp salt, 1 tbsp black pepper and 2 tbsp olive oil. Roast in preheated oven until the skin blisters and turns black (about 10 minutes). After cooling, with your mortar and pestle or blender, grind the mix of tomatoes and bell peppers. Set aside sauce to use later.

3. In a pan dry roast cumin seeds, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, & poppy seeds. After cooling, grind the spice to a powder using a mortar and pestle or blender. Add turmeric powder, red chilli, ginger & peeled garlic cloves and grind. Add a little water & grind to a smooth paste. Set aside to use later.

4. In a frying pan heat cooking oil. Add the fish pieces side by side (you may have to cook in batches). Fry on medium heat for 2-3 minutes on each side until fish is browned evenly.

5. Heat a deep saucepan with 2 tbsp oil. Add sliced onions and curry leaves, fry on medium heat until light brown. Add spice paste (if needed ½ tsp salt for taste) and cook, stirring frequently, for around 5 minutes or until fragrant. Stir in tomato/capsicum sauce, simmer until juices are reduced. Add coconut milk and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 4-5 minutes, or until reduced slightly.

6. Add the fish gently and cook covered for around 15 minutes. Finish with by squeezing half of a lemon and garnished with chopped coriander.

We’d love to see how you use these resources at home. Post your stories and photos with the hashtag #NIRINathome.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
NIRIN: Art From the Edge
The Biennale of Sydney (2020) presents contemporary art from around the globe in a First Nations-led exhibition
View theme
Google apps