Sri Lankan cuisine is hot 

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Prawn curry as made by the author. — RICHARD VINES/BLOOMBERG

Make this Sri Lankan prawn curry at home

HOPPERS restaurant was a sensation when it opened in London’s Soho in 2015.

Diners were unfamiliar with Sri Lankan cuisine, and long queues formed. You might wait two hours to enjoy inexpensive dishes, whose spicing was subtly different from the north Indian restaurants for which the city is well known. Five years on and there are now three Hoppers outlets, where you can book tables in advance. The long lines are gone but the popularity and quality remain.

Hoppers’ director, Karan Gokani, didn’t train as a professional chef. He’s a former lawyer and worked for Linklaters before entering the restaurant business. But Mr. Karan is accomplished in the kitchen. Chef Andrew Wong, who holds a Michelin star at A. Wong, has eaten at his home and describes him as “an amazing cook, a super-talented chef.” Mr. Karan grew up in Mumbai in a Gujarati family eating mainly vegetarian dishes, but some of the best food was cooked by a Tamil great uncle. Mr. Karan came to love South Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine. (He proposed to Sunaina in Sri Lanka and they married in Kerala.)

Hoppers is owned by JKS Restaurants, of which Mr. Karan’s wife Sunaina Sethi was one of the three founders, with her brothers Karam and Jyotin. Karam is among the UK’s most influential chefs, known for restaurants such as Gymkhana.

Here, Mr. Karan has supplied a recipe for home-style Sri Lankan prawn curry, or isso kari. While much of the ingredients can be sourced pretty easily, readers may have difficulty finding Sri Lankan roasted curry powder as it is “vastly different from the garam masalas or the typical Madras curry powders you find on supermarket shelves,” Mr. Karan said. If there’s none in your local store, try to go online to find it. He recommends using prawns with heads and shells on, which you can ask a fishmonger to clean and prep for you, but headless fresh prawns from a supermarket are OK, but you really need fish stock for depth of flavor. Cooked prawns are an absolute no-no as they will go rubbery without absorbing the spices, Mr. Karan said.


I enjoyed the dish, which was hotter than I’d anticipated. (It was only later that I noticed the Kings curry powder I used is 32% dried red chilies.) If you don’t want prawns, this recipe also works with mackerel, sardines, or fillets of bream or bass. The recipe is supposed to serve three to four people. I just ate it all myself.

600 grams of (21 ounces) raw prawns with skin and head on; or about 350g if without shells

1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tsp ginger, minced

1 onion, finely chopped

2 very ripe medium tomatoes, diced

250 milliliters (8.5 fluid ounces) coconut milk

100 ml water or fish stock

10-12 curry leaves, ideally fresh

1 cinnamon stick

2 long green chilies, slit (remove seeds if you prefer less spicy, or leave out completely if you prefer milder still)

1.5 tablespoons roasted Sri Lankan curry powder

1/2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp chili flakes

1/4 tsp salt

2 tbsp coconut oil

To garnish:

Finely chopped coriander

Lime, cut into 4

Marinate prawns in a pinch of salt and turmeric for an hour.

Heat the oil in a wok or saucepan over medium heat. Add the fenugreek seeds and stir until they get a shade or two darker in color, but be careful not to burn them or they will go bitter.

Add the cinnamon stick, onion, garlic, and ginger and sweat for about 5 minutes over medium heat till the onions go translucent and soft and the garlic doesn’t smell raw anymore. The onions don’t need to be browned as some recipes call for. If they begin to catch/stick to the pan at any point, add a splash of water or stock and keep cooking.

Add the tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes until soft and pulpy.

Add the curry leaves and remaining spices and cook for a further 3 minutes adding a splash of stock if they stick or burn.

Add the coconut milk and fish stock and salt and simmer for about 10 minutes. Don’t allow the curry to boil as the milk could split. If you’d like the curry thicker, simmer it for a little longer until you are satisfied with the consistency.

Add the chilies and prawns and continue to simmer for 4-6 minutes until the prawns turn pink and are fully cooked through. If you use peeled raw prawns they won’t need any more than a couple of minutes, depending on their size. Don’t overcook or they will go rubbery and hard.

Check seasoning, garnish with coriander and serve with steamed rice or string hoppers and a wedge of lime to squeeze over. — Bloomberg