Lip Smacking Jaffna Prawn Curry

Growing up in Sri Lanka where there is an ample supply of fresh seafood all year round, I have had so many varieties of seafood in many different ways. This prawn curry I made was inspired by my sister’s recipe which is rich in flavour that you are longing for a second and third serving and the aroma of this dish will fill your kitchen. I used unroasted Jaffna curry powder which is heavy in coriander and well balanced with a good dose of coconut milk. The prawns were cooked just long enough so that they are tender and juicy and coated in the thick and scrumptious curry sauce. You can use either roasted or unroasted curry powder which you can find in Sri Lankan or Indian grocery stores here in Australia.

Although Sri Lanka is a small island, you will find many different varieties of prawn curries depending on the region. Tamil culture has contributed so much to the fabric of Sri Lankan culture as a whole and people commonly confuse it with the South Indian cuisine because both cooking styles are somewhat similar, although they have their own distinctive taste. Some of my favourite Sri Lankan foods—stringhoppers, hoppers and pittu find their origin in South India. Jaffna is a northern region in the Island which boast a beautiful coast and home to traditional Tamil cuisine. The region renown for its use of fresh seafood straight from the sea and famous for their crab curry and prawn curry.

This is not only a lip-smacking dish but also very easy to make and that can be adapted for any type of prawns or shrimps. You can also easily substitute prawns or shrimps with white fish of your choice.

I prefer using raw, unpeeled prawns with the tail on simply because it adds more depth of flavour to the curry, however, keep in mind that you’re going to have to de-shell them when you eat them. If you were lucky to find prawns or shrimps with soft shells, you do not need to worry about deshelling them when you eat – well, at least, I do not bother removing the shells! You can also use frozen or deshelled prawns if you like.

Ok, now let’s start making some goodness.


To marinate the prawns;

  • 800kg prawns
  • 1 1/2 tsp tamarind paste
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper

To make the curry sauce;

  • 2 – 3 tbsp coconut oil (or other cooking oil)
  • 1 spring of curry leaves
  • 5-inch pandan leave
  • 1 medium onion sliced
  • 3- 4 fresh green chillies split in half
  • 1 cup thick coconut milk
  • 1/2 water
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp mustard powder
  • 1/2 cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 2-inch cinnamon stick
  • 1 tbsp Jaffna curry powder
  • 3-inch lemongrass


  • Clean the prawns by removing the heads, devein and deshell(optional), leaving the tails.
  • Rinse the prawns and drain excess water.
  • Add tamarind paste, turmeric, chilli powder, salt and pepper over the prawns and mix well. Set aside to marinate while you cook the curry base.
  • Heat a saucepan or pan over medium heat, and add the cooking oil. Once it’s hot, add onion, ginger, garlic, curry leaves, pandan leaves and fresh chillies and saute, while mixing for about 5 minutes.
  • Lower the heat to low heat, add mustard seeds, cumin seeds, cinnamon stick and fennel seeds and saute for another minute. It is important that you do not burn these spices.
  • Add Jaffna curry powder and then coconut milk and water. Stir well to combine. Bring the mix to a boil. Cover and simmer for about 10 – 15 minutes until the mixture is thick and rich brown/red colour.
  • Add the prawns into the curry base and gently mix to combine well with the curry sauce and cook for another 10 minutes on low heat. Add more water if the curry sauce is too thick, or you would like more sauce. Taste and season with salt if needed.
  • Serve with rice, bread, stringhoppers or roti. Enjoy!

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