Karola Thel Dala (Spicy Fried Dry Fish)

spicy dry fish sri lankan style

A Spicy Sri Lankan Dry Fish Recipe

Fish and other seafood plays a major part in Sri Lankan cuisine. Catching, selling, cooking and eating fish is a part of our culture. Like many other Sri Lankan foods, dry fish recies were originally conceived as a necessity. Before we had fridges, the fishermen who sold their fresh catches on the market took whatever was left over at the end of day, salted and dried it and then sold it as karola (or karavala, කරවල).

Karola should not be confused with maldive fish (umbalakada), which is used in recipes such as lunu miris and pol sambol. Maldive fish is made out of cured tuna, which has to be specially prepared, while karola is the term for fish that has simply been dried and salted.

Karola can be stir-fried to make karola thel dala or you can cook it with coconut milk as a karavala curry. It’s a Sri Lankan custom to give the mourners karavala curry, rice and wattakka (pumpkin) curry and pollos mallum after a funeral.

You can use different sorts of fish to make karola thel dala. Some of the most popular variants include halmassa (anchovi), kelawallaa (yellowfin tuna), moraa (shark), bala (skipjack tuna) and madu (flatnose ray). My personal favorite for this recipe is thalapath karola (Indo-Pacific sailfish),

This karola thel dala recipe is very easy to make and tastes especially good with white rice, dhal curry and pol sambol.



250 g dry fish

1 large onion

1 medium tomato

2 small green chili peppers

1 branch of curry leaves

1 inch pandan leaf

2-3 tablespoons ground chili pieces

4 tablespoons vegetable oil



  • Don’t add any salt while cooking. Once you’ve finished, taste the karola thel dala and add salt only if really necessary. Personally I’ve never seen the need to add any salt, the karola is already salty enough by itself.
  • I like to use 3 tablespoons of chili pieces, but that might be too spicy for some people. 2 tablespoons are enough if you don’t want it to be too hot.



Cooking Instructions:

  1. Leave the dry fish in a bowl of water for 10 minutes to make it less salty.
  2. Cut the onion, tomato and green chili separately into thin pieces. Cut the inch of pandan leaf in two.
  3. Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan and fry the dry fish on low fire for five minutes. Make sure to stir very well and fry the fish evenly on both sides.
  4. Add the onion,chili pieces, green chili, pandan leaf and curry leaves. Fry on medium flame for another five minutes.
  5.  Once everything is light brown, add the tomato. Stir well and fry for 5 more minutes on medium flame.
  6. Taste and add salt only if necessary.


Recipe Name
Karola Thel Dala
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4.5 Based on 37 Review(s)
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