Thursday, January 24, 2013

Penang Fish Head Curry

For all of the time I have lived in Penang, I have seen restaurants and food courts advertising "Fish Head Curry", but I have never tried it. In the US when we order fish in a restaurant we usually get fish fillets or salmon, tuna steaks etc.. We don't usually see the heads attached to the fish when it is served. I think most people would be grossed out by having the fish they eat looking back at them.If we go into a fish market or grocery store we sometimes see the entire fish, such as with trout or mackerel. Where I come from catching and eating catfish, or as we call them, bullheads, is a tradition in the springtime. But before they are cooked the head is removed. I can remember my father fishing for trout, which my mother did fry and serve with the heads, but I think most fish were beheaded. So eating a dish with just the head seemed a little strange for me.

Quite a while ago I wrote a blog on the Old City Food Court in which I mentioned the ABC Fish Head Curry stall. As many of you know I eat lunch at this food court quite often, and I have eaten squid curry  and the fish curry, but I have never tried the Fish Head Curry. Kenny, the owner of ABC, has been trying to get me to try fish head for a long time, so I finally gave in to him. I ordered Fish Head Curry for 4 people and asked him to include squid, just in case I didn't like the fish head. Kenny suggests that you order the fish head one day in advance to insure freshness. I ordered the curry for 4 on  Thursday to be eaten on Friday.

On Friday, my friend Kevin and our neighbors Linda and Cheah shared my first experience eating Fish Head Curry. Actually Linda had never had the dish before also. Apparently the fish cheeks have the most tender meat on the fish, while the lips were also quite tasty. Yes, I said fish lips. I never knew fish had lips! As soon as we sat down Kenny brought over our meal. There it was! A huge clay pot featuring a rather large fish head, with a gaping mouth full of teeth and smothered with onions and okra, or lady fingers as they call it here, and squid in a fragrant curry sauce. Kevin dished out the fish cheeks to make sure everyone got a share and we all settled down to enjoy our meal.

I found the the dish to be very good, since I do love curry. I didn't really think that the fish cheeks tasted any better than regular fish meat though. I love squid so even without the fish head I would have thought the meal was great. I did not mind eating the cheeks and other meat of the head though. One of the treats of eating the fish head is supposed to be the eyeballs. I passed on those and we all left Kevin to enjoy the eyeballs! The total price for the Fish Head Curry was RM79, which is a good price for this special Penang dish, which is not normally found all over. We all left feeling very satisfied with the meal. I would recommend that anyone who visits here or anyone who lives here, but hasn't tried it, give this dish a try. Don't be scared off by the fish staring back at you as you eat.


  1. Great post, hopefully it will get more people to try this regional favourite.

    I've had it a few times now, some , it has to be said, much better than others. But the same goes for other dishes, not everywhere does them well. While I'm happy to eat it I ca't say I'm blown away with it and to be truthful actually prefer the 'substance' of having more fish meat by ordering regular fish curry, filleted or not. But it's worth a try for sure, especially if you get a good one :-)

  2. Thanks. I agree with your point of just ordering plain fish curry, or in my case squid curry.

  3. Hi Steve,

    Glad you were able to break through your apprehension and try one of the most delicious dishes on the planet. Next time you're in Singapore, you must try the fish head curry at Banana Leaf Apollo (highly recommended by Anthony Bourdain...and yours truly!). As Pick of Penang rightfully points out, some places do the dish better than others. This place does the dish sublimely. Definitely in my Top 10 all-time dining experiences.

    On a side note, your posts no longer go through to my email. I haven't changed any settings, not that I am aware of at least. I thought perhaps you took some time off writing, but now see that you've been rock steady, as usual, and it's just that the posts aren't linking to my inbox. Thought to bring this to your attention as the same might be the case for others who enjoy your posts. If there's something I can do to ensure they are properly announced in my inbox, please advise.



    P.S. I'm sure you've heard about the major snow storm heading for New England. Boston is about to blanketed. Good time to be in San Diego, or better yet Penang!

  4. Thanks Michael for your great comment. It's nice to know I have such a loyal follower. I cannot figure out why you are not getting email notifications. Perhaps you can try to resubscribe to see if that works. And yes I see where a major blizzard is poised to hit Boston and most of the northeast. I hope everyone is prepared. I will enjoy watching it on CNN.