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Top 5 fish head curry you absolutely must try in Penang

So many races, so many cultures in Malaysia - few things bring all of us closer than culinary adventures. Curry fish head is enjoyed by Malaysia's diverse population, as Zac Teo makes a compilation of curry fish head eateries around the island.

Curry Fish Head in Penang. Photograph: Zac Teo/
Curry Fish Head in Penang. Photograph: Zac Teo/

Diverse populations and cultures will usually result in different culinary taste, thus it makes the fish head curry a real gem to know that it is enjoyed so diversely. This dish can be easily categorized based on the distinct preparation methods with their respective combination of spices and herbs. Origins of this dish is unclear though, with some putting forth that it originated from Kerala, India and morphed into different branches over the years in Malaysia - but one thing is clear, the curry always packs a punch and makes a hearty meal.

The amalgamation between the styles have been so closely crossed over that it is impossible to specify a particular culture's belonging, however the common range of fish head curry are between the Indian Muslim style, Chinese Nyonya and Malay. There are whose gravy are spicy and sourish while others are laden with thick coconut milk for the milkier finish. Price wise, fish head curry is not exactly a simpleton meal yet it wouldn't reach the echelons of extravagance, thus making it affordable for large masses of the rakyat.

Kelawai Fish Head at the intersection  of Kelawai Road and Jones Road. Photograph: Zac Teo/
Kelawai Fish Head at the intersection  of Kelawai Road and Jones Road. Photograph: Zac Teo/ 

To whet your appetite, takes a pick of five of the best spots in Penang to find mouth-watering curry fish head - ranging from road-side eateries to air-conditioned restaurants. This list also takes into account preparation of the fish head by different races, and do take note that it is not in any particular order or ranking.

1. Kelawai Fish Head, Pulau Tikus
Having been around for about two decades, you can bet that this simple eatery can cook up a decent fish head curry dish. The gravy is prepared ala-Malay style, with plenty of curry leaves and herbs instead of curry powder. It has a dilute yet flavorful taste, tasting especially good when topped with chopped onions and coriander. Enjoy it with white rice and some side dishes from the counter, sambal squid is an excellent addition. Prices are relatively reasonable, with a large fish head costing about RM20 onwards.

This shop is located at 43, Kelawai Road, 10250 Penang. It is smack right on the intersection of Jones Road and Kelawai Road, and it can be contactable at 04 226 4573 or 012 486 6866.

2. Chee Wah Fish Head Curry, George Town
Moving on to a Chinese style preparation, Chee Wah serves a kick-ass claypot of fish head curry. The power is in the gravy, which uniquely crosses the rich Nyonya version with the spicy Indian version, and all done without coconut milk! Unlike many other fish head curry stalls that would steam the fish head first before braising it in curry for a quicker preparation, Chee Wah cooks the entire kalak fish head in curry thus infusing the natural sweetness in the dish. Try out some of the economy rice dishes in the front of the shop as well, such as stir fried vegetables.

Chee Wah Fish Head Curry is at 68, Lebuh Melayu, 10100 Penang. Make your way to the heart of George Town to find this eatery or call 04 2619 530 for enquiries/reservations.

3. Hameediyah Restaurant, George Town
Serving Penangites with a plethora of Nasi Kandar and fish head curry since 1907, Hameediyah dishes out a traditional Indian fish head curry. The gravy is thick and superbly flavorful, with the presence of curry powder, curry leaves, fenugreek and mustard seeds. Topped with mint leaves, do opt for some green acar from the hot section to accompany this fine dish. The price range of the fish head curry is about RM60, however do be assured its worth the price.

This historical place has been serving Penangites for more than a century! Hameediyah is located at 164A, Campbell Street, 10300 Penang. For enquiries or reservations, do call 04 261 1095.

4. Restaurant 77, Gurney Drive
Head over to Gurney Drive if you would like a taste of a typical Chinese style preparation of the fish head curry. Served in a thick and rich red curry gravy, it is common to order some additional ingredients such as prawns and squids to complete this delicacy. Having been dishing out this iconic dish for a good part of three decades, Restaurant 77 is able to maintain the consistency of freshness of the fish over multiple visits. It is located on the intersection of Gurney Drive and Burmah Lane.

Perched on the iconic Gurney Drive, the name of the restaurant is named after its very own address. Head over to 77-D, Gurney Drive, 10250 Penang, or call 04 227 9086 for more information.

5. Pen Mutiara Curry House, Batu Maung
Occasions would arise that would require a catering for a larger group, festivities, banquets or even Halal for Muslim guest. Pen Mutiara Curry House is an ideal place for this, with its large air-conditioned seating areas commonly hosting kenduris, corporate banquets or even large families. Relatively similar to the Kelawai Road Fish Head taste-wise, the fish head is prepared ala-Malay style. Commonly enjoyed with a number of other dishes in this restaurant.

This eatery, located in the Batu Maung area, possesses a Halal Certification. The address is Wisma Nelayan, Pelabuhan LKIM Batu Maung, 11960 Penang. For enquiries/reservations, do call 04 626 4615. 

Zac Teo

Zac Teo

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