Friday, October 12, 2012

Gulai Ikan Tongkol / Spicy Curry Tuna - (MFF - Terengganu)

This dish is very obviously for the sake of Malaysian Food Fest Terengganu month. I'm glad that I did it :)

I usually eat tuna fish in Japanese restaurant. Typical sushi or sashimi. I never deal with the fish on my own before. Haha...

Until recently then I realized Malaysia known tuna fish as ikan tongkol or ikan aya. Oh! They have another name called ikan kayu too. Different state has different name. Whatever, I just recognize it as Tuna. Easier.

At 1st, I don't intend to cook this dish for Terengganu MFF at all. Until I saw a very nice tuna fish at the fish stall, and I just can't resist buying it. This fish is about 900grams, cost me S$4.50. Tuna fish has stronger fishy smell than other ordinary fish that I usually buy, but this fish is quite economical. Usually wet market selling at S$5.00 per kg :)

Gulai ikan tongkol means curried tuna fish dish, cooked with buah belimbi. Usually eaten together with nasi dagang. I cook both dish together of course. The dish doesn't cost much. But you require some effort to gather all the ingredient and prepare it.

So, here's the ingredients..

(Source : Wendy, with slight modification to suit my own)

Ingredient A
  • 900g Tuna Fish / Ikan Tongkol
  • 50g Tamarind Paste / Asam Paste
  • 800ml Water
Ingredient B
  • 2 tbsp Coriander Seeds / Biji Ketumbar
  • 1 tbsp Fennel Seeds / Jintan Manis
  • 100g Shallots
  • 2 cloves Garlic
  • 15g Dried Chilli
  • 25g Galangal / Lengkuas
  • 25g Ginger
Ingredient C
  • 200ml Coconut Milk
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 tbsp Palm Sugar / Gula Melaka, grated (adjust to suit your tastebud)
  • 4 Red Bird's Eye Chilli / Cili Padi Merah, lightly bruised
  • 4 Green Bird's Eye Chilli / Cili Padi Hijau, lightly bruised
  • 100g Buah Belimbi. But I replaced it with 3 medium sized Tomatoes.
# Buah Belimbi (Belimbing Buluh) is the right one to use. I couldn't get it. So, I replaced it with tomatoes. If you could find buah belimbi, please use that instead of tomatoes.


1. I want this dish to have thicker sauce. So, I used 800ml water instead. Wendy used 1L water. This is upto individual. You could go ahead and use more water if you wants more sauce. Flexible.

2. If you have asam gelugor, use it. But if you don't, like me, just use asam paste / tamarind paste. No problem for that. 

3. This is a fishy fish to me. So, I decided to increase the amount of galangal and ginger. Original was 20g each. Anyway, 5 grams each doesn't makes much different. So, don't worry about that.

4. When you grate your palm sugar, prepare more. Just incase you need more to adjust the taste.

5. It is always good to prepare everything before you start cooking. For general spices, I always keep stock at home. They are essentials. It will comes in handy.

The essential spices for curry - Shallots, Garlic, Ginger, Galangal, and dried chillies...

(Stage 1) - Fish Preparation
  1. Clean the fish - Cut the fish into 1 inch thick slice. Keep the fish head too. Rinse fish until no more bloody liquid from the fish.
  2. Rub asam paste in 800ml water, strained, discard pulp and seeds. Keep the water.
  3. Bring asam water to a boil. Add in fish and let it simmer for 5mins. 
  4. Dish up fish from asam water, set aside. Keep the fish broth. We need them later. 
(Stage 2) - Spices Preparation
  1. Lightly toast coriander seed and fennel seed in a pan. Grind both together into fine powder.
  2. Grind shallots, garlic, ginger, galangal and dried chillies into paste.

(Stage 3) - Cooking
  1. In a wok, add 4 tbsp cooking oil, add in chilli paste and fry till fragrant. 
  2. Add in coriander seed and fennel seed powder mixture, fry until it looks glossy.
  3. Add in coconut milk, bring to a boil.
  4. Add in fish broth and bring to a boil under high heat.
  5. Season with salt and palm sugar, and let it simmer for another 2 mins.
  6. Add in fish pieces and bring back to boil.
  7. Add in bird's eye chillies and buah belimbi and turn off the heat. If you are using tomatoes, let it boil for another 20 seconds before you turn off the heat. 
  8. Dish up, serve with nasi dagang or plain rice.

Can you see that the coconut milk released all the oil? Beautiful color! It's Ready!

I love it's spicy and sourish taste of the gravy. The color looks attractive too! Unlike those heavy coconut milk curry, it will makes me feels jelak with just a few mouthful. This one is different :)

As I mentioned, this spicy curry tuna dish best eaten with nasi dagang and pickled vegetables. The spicy and sour fish pairing with the chewy bouncy rice... Oh! Yumm~!!! The sourish pickled vegetables is there for a reason too. The sourness of the picked vegetable raises the appetite, while it reduces the feeling of jelak-ness for both rice and fish. Perfect match!

For nasi dagang recipe, please refer here.

For pickled vegetables, ingredient is pretty standard and simple. I just prepare some carrots, cucumber and onions, cut them in match sticks size, mix with some salt, sugar and calamansi juice from 2 large calamasi. Mix everything together and keep it in a tupperware for 1 hour. And there, you have pickled vegetables! I make a batch of 4 serving as a side dish (Refer to photo). If you still don't get the idea on how it should goes about, refer to Wendy's pickled vegetable.


I am submitting this to Malaysian Food Fest, Terengganu Month hosted by Lena of Frozen Wings.

This post gets featured in Asian Food Channel (AFC) Facebook


  1. Annie, your curry looks super delicious! Love the gorgeous red color too!

  2. Phong Hong, Thanks! U should try cooking it at home too! :D

  3. annie, like you too, i've never eaten ikan tongkol before ..only had tuna from the japanese could we? well at least now you have tried and me hvnt yet...wait.. later..i want to try to taste how is our local tuna taste like..thanks for joining the terengganu food fest!

  4. Lena, this fish is fishier than the rest of the fish. But it is a good experience for me to try cooking tuna at home :)