Fish Varai

So recently I was invited with a bunch of friends for dinner with the sweetest lady (MIL of one of my friends). Auntie E was so excited to have us “girls” over (I guess to an 84 year old we can forever be girls!). She cooked up and absolute storm and we had a wonderful dinner of curries. One of the dishes stood out for me however, and this was a Varai or a kind of fish stir fry. This is one of the gems of Kerala cooking and apparently it is usually shark or ray flesh that goes into this dish. But Auntie E used mackerel because it is a more sustainable fish in the local context.

Auntie E was kind enough to name the ingredients for her Varai dish but I had to figure out the rest for myself. My version had more shredded coconut than hers, mainly because I had bought the chilled packaged version from NTUC and I wanted to use up all the shredded coconut. But this experiment was fun and yummy and I think will definitely be something I would serve to guests because it’s tasty and generally low carb because it’s pretty protein rich.

We really enjoyed dinner with Auntie E – I really wanted to take a leaf out of her book: her enthusiasm for life and her love of people really showed me how you can age well with zest. Auntie E is a retired nurse who is, besides being a great cook, also loves gardening and manages her garden all by herself. She walks to a neighbourhood park twice a day to exercise and do weights; no wonder she is so strong in her 80s. I think I would like to be like her when I grow up! 😊

So I had toned down the spice for this attempt but I’m sure we can add more. Really enjoyed eating this and I look forward to making it again!

Fish Varai with cauliflower rice

Fish Varai

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 500g mackerel steak
  • 200g shredded coconut (fresh)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 green chillis, chopped
  • 1 small 1 inch knob of ginger, grated
  • 3 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 2 dried chillis
  • 1 sprig of curry leaves (optional)
  • 2 tbsp oil


  1. Place the mackerel into a pot and fill with just enough water to cover the fish. Add the turmeric and 1/2 tsp salt and bring the pot to a boil and simmer about 10 minutes till the fish is just cooked. When done, take out the fish and remove the skin and bones. Shred the fish and set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, mix the fish, shredded coconut and the chili powder. Set aside.
  3. Heat up the oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Heat up the mustard seeds and fennel seeds and gently saute. When the mustard seeds start to pop or jump on the pan, then add the grated ginger, onions and green chillis and stir fry for about 3-4 minutes until the onions have turned transluscent and fragrant.
  4. Add the dried chilli, fish and coconut mixture and the other 1/2 tsp of salt and continue to saute over low heat. Keep stirring until the coconut looks slightly browned and toasted.
  5. Serve together with some cauliflower rice.


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