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Ambulthiyal(Sri Lankan sour fish curry).

Ambulthiyal(Sri Lankan sour fish curry).

A must-try Sri Lankan sour fish curry.

Made with goraka and black pepper, not only gives the fish ambulthiyal(sour fish)curry a unique taste but is also a method of preserving it.

I had Ambulthiyal at an almsgiving and let me tell you something, I simply relished every single morsel of the blackened fish I was served.

I couldn’t understand why no one was going gaga except me, whoever made the Ambulthiyal that day really knew how to prepare it.

Wherever the recipe originated on the island, you have to admit.

Ambulthiyal is a unique dish to Sri Lanka.

It’s definitely Sri Lankan but it is what I would like to categorize as a Sinhalese dish.

Why?

What does “Ambulthiyal” mean?

Ambulthiyal is the Sinhalese word for a very distinct fish curry.

It’s cooked using a spice blend that turns the outer part of the fish black in color.

“Ambul” actually means sour hence the name”sour fish”.

The types of fish to make the sour fish.

Any type of firm fish would do.

  1. kelewella(yellowfin tuna).
  2. Balaya(skipjack tuna).
  3. Talapath(sailfish).
  4. I’m using yellowfin tuna.
What is”goraka”?

It’s also known as Brindleberry,

Indian tamarind and in Sinhalese,”goraka“.

a picture of goraka also known as brindleberry which are dried until they turn black in color.
A substitute ingredient for goraka with the same results?

 You can substitute “goraka” with tamarind paste but you need to be careful with the tamarind as it has a sharper sour taste than “goraka” which in turn might make the fish too sour. 

Sri Lankan ambul thiyal(sour fish curry).

Forget about the recipe for a minute and let’s journey back in time.

Call me silly but every time I sat down to write this recipe, I’ve been taking short trips to the past, imagining the simple life centered on, hearth and home.

 I’m just thankful that it’s not lost to time, that someone’s, someone’s grandmother or daughter passed on the recipe until we now have this dish to enjoy.

So let’s go back in time, let’s imagine the origins of this recipe.

 Imagine if you will of times gone by, to a simpler way of life in the island, there is no modern equipment, no way to refrigerate food that can spoil easily, you have the hot sun beating down on you which doesn’t help matters with preserving food. 

When all the household work is done, the ladies of that time didn’t have entertainment that involves screens and remote controls, they didn’t have Google or mobiles to keep them occupied.

They had to actually meet each other to have a conversation, maybe over a cup of tea or just a gathering in someone’s kitchen.

They begin talking about family issues, their husbands and then they obviously ask each other what they cooked that day(still hasn’t changed).

And so begins the exchange of ideas and tips to cook a better dish(just like we share recipes and ideas on Facebook etc).

Did a group of these ladies get together and create the dish?

How did they know what ingredients to use?

How did they know the blend of spices to use? 

The spice blend definitely would have been the first, they would have had to come up with and then to cook it in a way the fish doesn’t burn while letting the fish cook for a long time. 

Sri Lankan fish ambulthiyal.

Save the recipe to your favorite Pinterest board!

Save the recipe to your favourite Pinterest board!

 

Beginner’s tips for making Ambulthiyal at home.

There are a few things you’ll need before thinking of making the dish,

  • First, a large clay pot that won’t crowd the fish so that when you have to move them a bit, you don’t end up breaking the fish into smaller pieces.

Do I need banana leaves to make fish ambulthiyal?

 There’s a reason why some foods are cooked, eaten or wrapped in banana leaves.

One reason is that it adds a subtle flavor to the dish.

When it comes to Fish Ambulthiyal, it prevents the fish from charring too much, although a bit of charring does add flavor to it.

Workflow to make malu ambulthiyal.

 

Make the goraka paste

 Make the spice paste and combine both.

Combine both pastes with other seasonings.

More fish curries!

Sri Lankan red chilli fish curry(thalapath malu mirisata).

How to make Sri Lankan canned fish curry.

Storage-
This is the perfect dish to take with you for your relatives overseas.  this method of cooking the fish preserves well.

When packed well the sour fish can be taken with you on long-distance travel.

Make sure to pack in a tight lid box and also store in zip lock bags to avoid any type of fish smell spreading on to your personal items.

Freezing– packed in an airtight container. you can freeze the sour fish for 3-4 weeks.

Stop food waste by– any leftover fish can be frozen or refrigerated ONLY if the sour fish was handled carefully with spoons to serve.

How to make

Ambulthiyal(sour fish curry).

Please make sure to read the recipe instructions carefully to avoid mistakes.

Ingredients

Ingredients mentioned below use standard measuring cups and spoons.

500g of firm fish(kelewella, balaya,talapath would be ideal, see notes above)

5 pieces of goraka soaked for 5 minutes and then pounded to form a fine paste.

3 tablespoons of good quality black pepper

1 tablespoon of minced/grated ginger

4 garlic cloves minced/grated

3 cardamom pods slightly bruised

2-inch pandan leaves

A sprig of curry leaves(5-8 leaves)

3 cloves

1 teaspoon chilli powder

1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder

Salt to season

Water as needed(just enough to cover the fish)

Method

Have all the ingredients needed to make sour fish(Ambulthiyal) ready.

spices needed for the sour fish(ambulthiyal)curry.

Cut the fish(500g)into the required size, they should fit the pan while not crowding within the pan.

have firm fish for the amul fish(sour fish)curry.

Soak the goraka(5) pieces for 5 minutes and then grind it into a fine paste.

You will need a little water to make the grinding process easier.

soaked goraka(brindleberry)and ground to a paste.

Grind and make a paste using garlic(4 cloves), ginger(1tbs), pepper(3tbs), cloves(3), curry leaves(a sprig), pandan leaves(2inch), cardamom(3), red chilli powder(1tsp), turmeric(1/4tsp).

grind the spices to make the sour fish in a blender.

Once you have a fine paste of goraka as well as the other ingredients mentioned above.

Combine both the pastes, check for seasoning, add salt and more pepper if necessary.

grind both goraka(brindleberry) and the spices together to make a thick paste.

How to cook ambulthiyal.

Add the paste to a large bowl with fish pieces and mix well.

I would reccomend wearing disposable gloves if possible since your hands and nails will carry the smell of the spices for a few hours.

Set aside for 10-15 minutes while you prepare the clay pot to cook the fish.

Cover the fish pieces with the ambulthiyal paste.

Cut the banana leaf in a way you can layer the bottom of the clay pot, either in rectangular pieces or one in the shape of a disk.

cover the cooking pan in banana leaf to make the sri lankan sour fish.

Once you place the banana leaf in the bottom of the pan, give the fish a last mix and add them to the clay pot.

add the fish to the pan .

Try not to crowd the fish or stacking them one over the other too much as you want all the pieces of fish to cook evenly and intact.

If there is leftover marinade in the bowl, add 1 cup water to it, collect the marinade and pour the water over the fish.

Check if the water just about covers the fish, if not add a little more.

Place the pan over low fire, let it simmer until water evaporates completely.

Do not mix or use a spoon on the dish at any point in the cooking process.

If you really want to move the pieces, hold the pan from both sides and give a little shake for the fish to settle.

Once the fish takes on a blackish tinge while slightly charring on the bottom, remove from fire let it cool.

Then gently pry the fish pieces so they come off the pan easily.

fish ambulthiyal cooked and ready in a pan.


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Sri Lankan ambul thiyal(sour fish curry). One of the must-try Sri Lankan dishes. Made with goraka and black pepper not only gives the fish curry a unique taste but is also a method of preserving the fish curry.

Sri Lankan ambul thiyal(sour fish curry).

Yield: 5
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Sri Lankan ambulthiyal(sour fish curry).

A must-try Sri Lankan fish curry.

Made with goraka and black pepper, not only gives the fish ambulthiyal curry a unique taste but is also a method of preserving it.

Ingredients

  • Ingredients mentioned below use standard measuring cups and spoons.
  • 500g of firm fish(kelewella, balaya,talapath would be ideal, see notes above)
  • 5 pieces of goraka soaked for 5 minutes and then pounded to form a fine paste.
  • 3 tablespoons of good quality black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of minced/grated ginger
  • 4 garlic cloves minced/grated
  • 3 cardamom pods slightly bruised
  • 2-inch pandan leaves
  • Sprig of curry leaves(5-8 leaves)
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 teaspoon chilli powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • Salt to season

Instructions

Have all the ingredients for the sour fish(ambulthiyal)curry.

Cut the fish into required size, they should fit the pan while not crowding within the pan.

Soak the goraka(5) pieces for 5 minutes and then grind it into a fine paste.

You will need a little water to make the grinding process easier.

Grind and make a paste using garlic(4 cloves), ginger(1tbs), pepper(3tbs), cloves(3), curry leaves(a sprig), pandan leaves(2inch), cardamom(3), red chilli powder(1tsp), turmeric(1/4tsp).

Once you have a fine paste of goraka as well as the other ingredients mentioned above,

Combine both the pastes, check for seasoning, add salt and more pepper if necessary.

How to cook ambulthiyal.

Add the paste to a large bowl with the fish pieces and mix well, set aside for 10-15 minutes while you prepare the clay pot to cook the fish.

Cut the banana leaf in a way you can layer the bottom of the clay pot, either in rectangular pieces or one in the shape of a disk.

Once you place the banana leaf in the bottom of the pan, give the fish a last mix and add them to the clay pot.

Try not to crowd the fish or stacking them one over the other too much as you want all the pieces of fish to cook evenly and intact.

If there is leftover marinade in the bowl, add 1 cup water to it, collect the marinade and pour the water over the fish.

Check if the water just about covers the fish, if not add a little more.

Place the pan over a low fire, let it simmer until water evaporates completely.

Do not mix or use a spoon on the dish at any point in the cooking process, if you really want to move the pieces, hold the pan from both sides and give a little shake for the fish to settle.

Once the fish takes on a blackish tinge while slightly charring on the bottom, remove from fire let it cool. then gently pry the fish pieces so they come off the pan easily.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 5 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 141Total Fat: 3gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 57mgSodium: 181mgCarbohydrates: 3gFiber: 1gSugar: 0gProtein: 27g

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Davina de Fonseka

Tuesday 13th of July 2021

how much tamarind should we substitute instead of the goraka?

jehan

Tuesday 13th of July 2021

Hi Davinda, For 500g, 3 tablespoons of thick tamarind paste should do but please do check the concentration of the tamarind paste. Depending on the brand, I've noticed some tamarind paste tends to be thin than others. If the tamarind paste is thin then add an extra tablespoon(makes 4 tbsp). Make the Ambulthiyal paste, taste and add more paste as needed, you'll want it to be really sour. I'll make a note to use tamarind next time I make the fish curry and will add notes on it when time permits. Hope this helps, Regards J

Thisura

Saturday 17th of April 2021

Prepared this for the Sinhala Tamil New Year. Used Spanish mackerel instead of tuna. And marinated it for 30 minutes. Had to simmer it for a bit longer as it is a softer fish. But other than that made no changes to the recipe. The salt/sour balance was on point. Everyone loved it! Thanks a lot for a quick and easy recipe.

jehan

Sunday 18th of April 2021

Hi Thisura, thank you for trying out the recipe and so glad it came out well. will recommend the type of fish mentioned here to my other readers. please rate the recipe if possible as this helps me to grow and others to find the recipe easily on google. Stay safe and regards, J

Karen

Saturday 15th of August 2020

Thanks for sharing this recipe! We love fish and I love a good sour curry so I'm very excited to try this out. May I know if you cook the fish covered or uncovered?

jehan

Saturday 15th of August 2020

Hi Karen, You are most welcome. You can cook the fish half-covered at the initial stage and then uncovered at the very end just to keep an eye on the fish curry. will mention this on the recipe post for other readers as well. Regards. J

Kaya

Sunday 21st of June 2020

I am a tamil and a novice to Sinhala cooking. Husband loves Ambulthiyal and I have tried various recipes and this was the one I nailed! I am becoming a frequent visitor to your site thanks for your efforts

jehan

Monday 22nd of June 2020

Hi Kaya, Thank you for letting me know the recipe worked for you, I wish I could add some real Tamil Sri Lankan recipes, will try to add when I have a few. appreciate you visiting my site frequently and helping the site grow. regards, Jehan

Shirani

Wednesday 3rd of June 2020

Maru

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