Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Guyanese Gilbaka (Fish) Curry

"Mala is making gilbaka curry!"  The word spread like wildfire.  Within hours, the entire family found their way over to my aunt's house.  Why you ask? Well, it had something to do with the spicy and intense taste, matched with the sensation of the hot curry making its way down your stomach, giving you a feeling of comfort and happiness.  The tangy flavor of the gravy, provided by the green mango, combined with the delicate, yet meaty texture of the fish were all attributes that steered my aunts, uncles, and cousins over to our house when my aunt was cooking this tasty fish curry.  Gilbaka curry was always a crowd-gatherer, especially on a Sunday afternoon and it was only my aunt's gilbaka curry that had the power to do that.

Cooking curry is fairly simple in terms of the method, but achieving the right flavor is what takes skill and a knack for knowing good quality garam masala.  I remember as a teenager I'd help my mom rinse, dry, and toast all the spices she needed to grind her own garam masala.  It was definitely a feat and one that annoyed me because it was a long process and the smell got into everything! Our clothing, hair, skin, bedrooms, you name it, the aroma got a hold of it.  The strange part was, we were not even making the masala in our house, it was done outside, in our backyard!  Yea, it was some strong stuff.  After we finished grinding the garam masala, my mom would distribute bottles of it to my aunts and grandmother for use in their everyday cooking.  Today, knowing the hard work that goes into grinding garam masala, I am happy to receive even the smallest bottle of mom's masala in the mail, it's authentic taste and quality is what makes a curry dish like this one taste exceptional.  

About the Gilbaka Fish
Gilbaka, also known as "Gillbacker" is a scaleless saltwater fish that is part of the catfish family.  It is found in the muddy sea bottoms of coastal rivers from Guyana to northern Brazil.  This sea catfish can grow to enormous sizes and is quite meaty in texture.  It is by no means a "pretty" looking fish, but it is quite delicious.  It stands up well to heavy seasonings and high temperature cooking. Gilbaka has very thick, smooth skin that is light grey in color; once cooked, it becomes dark and gelatinous.  For this reason alone, very few people enjoy eating the skin.

During my trip to Guyana in 2009, my father took me to the Rosehall Town Fish Market located in Berbice.  Although it didn't smell great, it was amazing to see the variety of fish being sold and equally as awesome to have it chopped and cleaned right in front of you!  I was able to find a YouTube video highlighting this wonderful fish market.  A quick image of gilbaka fish is shown at the 1:58 minute mark, click here to view the video.  Despite its unappealing look, remember it's all about the taste! Enjoy :) 

Remove leaves from 3-4 sprigs of thyme.  Peel one head of garlic, chop 1 small yellow onion and 3 wiri wiri peppers.

Add to blender with 1/3 cup water.  Blend until smooth. 

This will give you approximately 1 cup of onion/garlic seasoning.  We will only use 1/2 cup to season the fish.  The rest you can refrigerate for about one week and use for another time.  This seasoning is pretty versatile and can be used to season rice, poultry, fish, or meat.

Chop green mango with skin on and set aside.  Keeping the skin on will allow the mango to stay intact and not dissolve while boiling. We will only use about 3 large pieces. 

.  Clean the skin by scraping it lightly, chop into desired size pieces.  I chopped them quite small (about 3inch cubes) since I prefer smaller pieces in my curry.  

Soak fish with water and juice of a few limes, this will help to remove any rank smell or taste.  Let fish soak for about 30 minutes.

Rinse fish thoroughly with cold water.  Pat each piece dry with paper towels.  You want the fish to be dry so that the seasonings will adhere well.

Add 1/2 cup of the onion/garlic mixture, 1/2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning, and 1/2 tsp garlic powder.  Leave fish to absorb seasonings for a minimum of 1 hour in the refrigerator.  

Mix 5 tbsp curry powder with 2 tbsp + 1/2 tsp garam masala.  Add 5 tbsp water and mix together.

Heat 3 tbsp oil in a wide bottomed pot, add curry powder/masala mixture and fry until most of the liquid evaporates.  Add 1/2 cup boiling water and one plum tomato, chopped.

Let mixture cook until tomatoes become tender.  Now add the fish.

After adding fish to the curry powder/masala mixture, add 1/4 tsp seasoned salt and 1 tsp regular salt (not pictured).  Gently coat fish with masala mixture and then pour enough boiling water to cover 1 inch above fish. Boil curry on medium heat for 25-30min. 

After 25 minutes, add green mango and continue to boil.

Remove curry when gravy reduces and becomes slightly thick. 

Gilbaka (fish) Curry
Serves 4-6

Onion/Garlic Seasoning
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 1 head of garlic, peeled
  • 3-4 fresh or dried thyme leaves
  • 1/3 cup water

For Curry
  • 2 lbs Gilbaka fish
  • 2 limes to soak fish
  • 1/2 cup onion/garlic seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 5 tbsp curry powder
  • 2 tbsp + 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 5 tbsp water
  • 3 large pieces of green mango (skin on)
  • 1 small plum tomato
  • 3 tbsp canola/vegetable oil
  • 1/4 tsp seasoned salt
  • 1 tsp salt (add more if needed)
  • About 1 1/2 cup boiling water

  1. Chop fish into desired size chunks.  Chop and squeeze lime juice over fish, add water and let sit for 30 minutes.  
  2. Rinse fish a few times and dry each piece of fish with paper towels.
  3. Make onion/garlic seasoning by blending onion, garlic, pepper, and thyme leaves with 1/3 cup of water in a blender.  This should give you 1 cup of mixture.  
  4. Add 1/2 cup onion/garlic mixture to the fish along with 1/2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning and 1/2 tsp garlic powder.  Leave fish to absorb seasonings for a minimum of 1 hour in the refrigerator.  
  5. Chop tomato and mango and set aside.  Bring a kettle or small pot of water to a boil while you complete the next step.
  6. In a small bowl, mix curry powder and garam masala with 5 tbsp water to form a thick liquid. 
  7. Heat a wide bottomed pot with 3 tbsp canola oil.  Add curry powder/masala mixture and fry until most liquid has evaporated.  Add 1/2 cup boiling water and tomato. 
  8. Let mixture cook until tomatoes become soft and tender.
  9. Add the fish and enough water to cover 1/2 inch above  fish. (This was about 1 cup of boiling water for me).  Add seasoned salt and regular salt, stir gently. 
  10. Let fish boil on medium heat for 25 minutes, then add green mango with skin.  Leaving the skin on will allow the mango to stay intact, otherwise it will dissolve slightly.
  11. Let curry boil for an additional 15-20 minutes until it begins to look thick and mango is completely soft.  Do not turn frequently during this period as you do not want the fish to break.   
  12. Enjoy with rice or roti :)


  1. looks delicious, can you tell us what's in your garam masala?

  2. hello my first time writing, question do you have chicken curry recipe

    1. Hi Lancelot,

      Yes I do, please email me at and I will give it to you :) Thanks for stopping by here!

  3. Looks great!! I usually fry the fish before I curry it but I like it both ways. I remember going to a friend's house in high school and crazy enough her Mom put potato in hers - it was soooo yummy.

  4. Why of why do you torture us so?

  5. This is blog is amazing! Your pictures and instructions are excellent. Thanks you for your time and dedication.

  6. hi do u have a recipe for chicken foot that you eat with sour

    1. Hi Shalinie,

      Unfortunately, I don't have a recipe for that right now, but I will add it to my recipe request list!

  7. What's a good substitute fish for Gilbaka?

    1. Hi Brian,

      You can try swordfish or any other fish with a stiff texture. Something like tilapia might break up too easily while boiling. Hope this helps.

  8. I tried this recipe today it was delicious