Maalu Ambul Thiyal (Fish cooked in brindle berry paste (Goraka))

How to make Maalu Ambul Thiyal


As all Sri Lankans may know, this Fish Ambul Thiyal dish is the signature of all Sri Lankan fish dishes. This is the queen of the chess game. This is the crown jewel of seafood plates in Sri Lanka.  Guess I am exaggerating… mmm… may be not…

Now, I am going to tell you two almost identical methods to teach you how to make Ambul Thiyal. First method is how it is made in this era and the second way is the true Sri Lankan traditional way to make Ambul Thiyal. I got this recipe from a very old grand-mother in Down South Sri Lanka. She is a true expert in making this dish and she told me her recipe that had been passed on from few generations. She told me that if we will make this properly, that we can keep it for days without refrigerating even. For me it was a huge privilege and an achievement to get this recipe.

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  • 1kg of fish with stiff meat texture – Traditionally, the best options are Skipjack tuna (Balaya Malu), Yellowfin tuna(Kalawalla Malu) and Sail fish(Thalapath Malu). But, if you are living away from Sri Lanka you can also use a fish like Shark (Mora Malu) instead. The concept is, try to find a fish that will become stiffer after cooking.
  • 70 – 80g of dried bridle berry (Goraka)
  • 4 cloves of garlic – chopped
  • 1 tsp of chopped ginger
  • 1 piece of cinnamon or ½ tst of ground cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp of ground black pepper powder
  • 4- 5 green chilies – chopped
  • Some curry leaves
  • Salt to taste and as needed
  • 2 – 1 ½ cups of water

Method 1

Mix fish and all other ingredients in a large cooking pot, with fingers. Remember, the two cups of water is including the water with the Goraka (Briddle berry) extracts.

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When adding salt, add around ¾ tsp of salt and adjust it to your taste when it is cooked half way. Now, start cooking under high heat for 2- 3 minutes and once the mixture is boiling, bring it a low-to-medium heat lever and simmer until the gravy become thick and gravy. In experience, this will take around 15 – 20 minutes. But remember, rather than cooking for this time period, concentrate on cooking until it reaches the intended consistency. And, let me give you a good tip about cooking fish, remember, most of the fish will be completely cooked after 7 minutes under moderate heat level. So, if you don’t want to have a thick gravy, you can stop cooking after 10 minutes. But frankly, if you want to taste the “REAL” Ambul Thiyal, brink it to a thick consistency.

How to make Ambul Thiyal in the true Sri Lankan way

  • Additional materials – few pieces of Banana leaves
  • A clay pot (Optional)

First, make the Goraka paste and, almost around a cup of water with Goraka extracts, as instructed above. Remember, for this method you don’t use 2 cups of water. You only use the remaining water from the Goraka boiling step. Also, it is preferred to use ground cinnamon than pieces. When she was teaching me this, I asked a dumb question of; “how could they have ground cinnamon back in old days?” , she smiled and said that she still grinds cinnamon with the grinding stone and that was what they had been doing for generations. Then, mix all other ingredients except the fish and make a paste out of them. Now, cover the inside surface of the cooking pot with a layer of banana leaves and pack the fish pieces as single layer. As you can see, to do this, you will be needing a fairly large cooking pot (preferably a clay pot). By doing this, the fish won’t stick to the bottom of the pot (Adiya Allane Naha) and will also give a good taste to it. Now, gently pour that paste over the fish and with finger tips make sure that all of the pieces are being glazed. After, same as above, start cooking under high temperature until the mixture starts to boil, and then bring it to a low heat level and simmer until the mixture is dry. Even if you won’t be able to cook exactly like this, try to keep the knowledge of this method in your mind. I don’t think most people know about these steps today. Who knows, one day, you may get a chance to teach your daughter.

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