Ullal Sardine Curry

By Published On: 7 Jun '21Last Updated: 14 Apr '24

The best Sardine Curry recipe when sardines are in season and at their best. Blend the spices to a paste and finish off with a seasoning of curry leaves for a simple tasty sardine curry.

Sardine Curry

WINTER 2021 is here and you can taste it with its crisp mornings and dull days but luckily today is a beautiful sunny winter's day in Sydney. The sunny day gave me the much needed nudge to take a drive to my local fish market and much to my delight, I found just the fish I was looking for. A rare find in my local fish market, I love fresh sardines and they instantly reminded me of the Indian sardines which were abundant during the sardine season when I was growing up. I could not resist buying these medium size sardines, as they had a truly beautiful silvery shine and according to my mum, they are fresh when they have that bright shine. My mum would cook sardines in three ways: a spicy and sour curry (amshe thickshi kodi), a Ullal sardine curry and tawa fry. Sometimes she would make a combination of fried (50%) and curried (50%). She preferred the medium sardines as they did not have too much fatty oil. We all know the large sardines emit a strong fishy smell that is released when pan frying and hence they were not the first choice in our house.

I opened my Granduncle Isidore Coelho's cookbook "The Chef" and I instantly get the inspiration to prepare the 'Ullal Sardine Curry'. It is a medium spicy curry but you can take a notch or two up if you prefer it spicier than the recipe below. You may add more Kashmiri chillies and less depending on your taste. Some of you might prefer to add a combination of the spicy dried red chillies and Kashmiri chillies. Reading through the recipe, I am not quite sure why the word "Ullal" is prefixed to this recipe but it is clear that Ullal was one of the major ports of the western coast of India in the pre-colonial era and sardines were a popular catch in Ullal. It seems fit to give them credit by calling them by the name of thier town 'Ullal'.

Where is Ullal and what is it famous for?

'Ullal' or 'Ullala' is a quaint little sea town located approximately 12km south from the City centre of Mangalore, Karnataka, India. It is one of the oldest fishing towns in India and is popular for its neat seashore, beaches, resorts, mosques and exquisite temples. Ullal is also an important trading centre for fish and fish manure. As it is well linked with roads and other means of transport, It happens to be a prime holiday attraction for families from around the globe who want to enjoy the beauty of the sea and some much-needed unwinding time while in Udupi or Mangalore. A word of warning, carry your masks as there is a fish factory closeby and the place is known for its smells!!

Ullal town was the capital of the Tulu Kingdom Ullal and was ruled by Jain Queen, Rani Abbakka Devi in the middle of the 16th century. Ullal came under the rule of Portuguese in the 15th Century. Rani Abbakka Devi was the first woman freedom fighter of India who fought against Portuguese.

Did you know that Ullal is the first “Kerosene Free” city in the Karnataka State?

According to Mangalore Today dated 23 November 2017, it was raining live sardines at Ullal seashore for three days in November 2017. Imagine what a wonderful spectacle it would be to see live sardines on the shores and locals coming with bags to collect free live sardines that washed ashore not just from Ullal but also from Kaiko, Mogaveerapatna, Someshwar and Kilirianagar beaches. The theory of the locals is that, the fish that escaped from the fishermen’s nets rushed to the shores. Some viewed this phenomenon as a bad omen. No matter which way they viewed it, many feasted on the free sardines for a few days including those who arrived in their swanky cars!

Delicious in taste, sardines are small fatty fish, rich in protein and have a tremendous amount of omega 3 fatty acids which are associated with a range of health benefits such as fighting inflammation and heart disease. Sardines are commonly eaten as a starter, snack or delicacy in western countries but in India and many Asian countries they are eaten fresh as a main course in a curry, fried, canned or dried. Sardines are one of the two most important commercial fishes in India along with Indian mackerel. Found along the west coast of India from Gujarat to Kerala and also Tamil Nadu, Pondichery, Andhra Pradesh but they are found to be in abundance off Kerala and Karnataka Coasts.

If you have tried this recipe, I would love to hear your feedback. Please be sure to rate the recipe and/or leave a comment below. If you want to see more recipe inspirations, you can follow me on instagram @lavina_mendonsa.

Ullal Sardine Curry

Catherine Lavina Mendonsa
Everyone loves a good fish curry, and this sardine curry is one of the easiest to make.  Its the perfect recipe when sardines are in season and at their best.  In this recipe, the spices are blended into a paste and the curry is finished off with a seasoning of curry leaves to create a simple yet tasty curry.  Served on a bed of steamed rice, this curry is full of flavour and makes a satisfying meal.
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Indian
Servings 4 people


  • 20 small to medium sardines
  • Marble size ball tamarind
  • 6 black pepper corns
  • 9 Kashmiri chillies or to taste
  • ¾ tsp. black mustard seeds
  • tbsp. coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 small onion sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp. fresh, shredded or desiccated coconut
  • 1 tsp. salt or to taste
  • 2 fresh green chillies slit
  • 3 tbsp. oil
  • 1 strand curry leaves


  • Clean the sardines, wash and drain well. Pat dry with paper towel if there is too much moisture. Set aside.
  • Soak the tamarind in ¼ cup hot water for 15 minutes. Squeeze the pulp, discard any seeds and fibre. Set aside.
  • Blend pepper corns, Kashmiri chillies, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, onion, garlic and coconut to a fine paste with ¾ to 1 cup of water.
  • Add the ground paste to a medium size saucepan. Wash blender with 300mL water and add to the ground paste. Mix well to combine and adjust the consistency of gravy to your liking. The gravy should not be too runny. Place the saucepan on medium heat, add salt and the tamarind pulp. Bring the curry to a rolling boil. Add green chillies and boil for a further 2 minutes. Stir and adjust salt if required. Add sardines and cook until fish is just firm (2 to 3 minutes). Overcooking the fish will render it to split from the bone. Remove from heat.
  • For the seasoning:
  • Heat oil in a small frying pan or a deep seasoning pan. When the oil is almost smoking, add the curry leaves and when they start to pop, remove from heat. Add this seasoning to the curry and close lid for a few minutes to capture the flavour of the curry leaves into the curry.
  • Open lid and gently rotate the saucepan a couple of times to distribute the seasoning evenly.
  • Serve immediately with steamed rice and vegetables as an accompaniment.


  1. You may add 1-2 tbsp. of white vinegar in step 4 at the time you add the green chillies to enhance the taste of this curry, but this step is optional.
Keyword Fish curry, Indian fish curry, Mangalorean fish curry, Sardine curry, Seafood curry
Lavina with Deliciously Indian

Hi, I’m Catherine!

I’m all about creating tasty Indian dishes with whatever’s on hand, even when I’m short on time or budget. I love turning simple ingredients into flavorful delights. Join me on this culinary adventure where we’ll explore the magic of Indian cuisine, one delicious dish at a time!

Leave A Comment

Recipe Rating