What’s cooking today: Tin Fish Curry

What’s cooking today: Tin Fish Curry
Tin fish curry. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Tin fish curry is an old colonial Natal tradition, cooked in the fields by indentured labourers to eat for lunch. It’s become beloved in the way that fish and chips are in England and Gatsbys are in Cape Town.

My old friend Devi Moodliar gave me her treasured family recipe for tin fish curry when she and her husband Chan owned the Talk of the Town restaurant and pub in Church Street, Cape Town, pre-1999. I’ve made it now and then ever since and it is a true delight of a recipe, and cheap as chips to make.

Devi was adamant that it must be middle cut, not any other can marked “pilchards”. It would not be the same, she said. And the fish must be drained and then cleaned. It’s also important not to stir the curry once you have added the middle cut, which goes in last.


1 x 400 g can of middle cut (pilchards), cleaned

4 ripe tomatoes, liquidised (or 2 x 400 g cans of chopped tomatoes)

1 medium onion, chopped

¼ cup cooking oil

¼ tsp mustard seeds

½ tsp cumin seeds

A few curry leaves

3 cloves garlic, crushed

3 tsp masala

1 level Tbsp tamarind pulp (or lemon juice)

1 brinjal/ eggplant in strips cut lengthwise

1 or 2 hardboiled eggs per serving, halved

Fresh coriander leaves, chopped

Salt to taste


Clean the middle cut fish, which means scraping away the spine and all other tiny bones, and optionally scraping away the somewhat slimy skin.

Heat oil in a pan on medium heat, and add the cumin and mustard seeds when it’s hot. When the seeds start to pop, add the onion, garlic and curry leaves, and stir until the onion turns golden brown.

Add the masala, tomatoes, brinjal, tamarind, salt to taste, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes or until the brinjal is tender.

Add the fish, pushing the pieces gently into the liquid, and simmer gently for a further 5 minutes.

Slice boiled eggs in half and serve on top, garnished with fresh coriander. Serve with rice. DM/TGIFood

Our Thank God It’s Food newsletter is sent to subscribers every Friday at 6pm, and published on the TGIFood platform on Daily Maverick. It’s all about great reads on the themes of food and life. Subscribe here.

Send your recipes to [email protected] with a hi-resolution horizontal (landscape) photo.

To enquire about Tony Jackman’s book, foodSTUFF (Human & Rousseau) please email him at [email protected]


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