This dish, variously written as “moolie” or “moilee”, is a mild coconut milk-based curry which is said to have been brought over to Malaya by the Indians (particularly the Malayalees of Kerala; molee means stew in Malayalam) during the time of the British rule. The inclusion of vinegar, both as a souring agent and for preservation, could be a Portuguese influence.

This recipe is from the story, “Malaysian food for the ages“.




500g firm-fleshed white fish, whole or steaks
½ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp lemon juice
salt to taste
oil for frying
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 tsp ginger paste
2 tsp garlic paste
½ tsp black pepper powder
2 sprigs curry leaves
½ cup thin coconut milk
2 green chillies and 1 red chilli
½ cup thick coconut milk
salt to taste
1-2 tsp white vinegar


If using whole fish, cut 2-3 gashes into the flesh on both sides. Wipe the fish dry and rub with turmeric powder, lemon juice and salt.

Heat enough oil in a large pan and fry the fish until golden brown, but still firm. Set aside.

Remove all but 2 tbsp oil from the pan and add mustard seeds. When they start to sputter, add onion and ginger. Saute until soft, then add the garlic, black pepper and curry leaves.

Pour in the thin coconut milk. Turn down the heat and return the fish to the pan. Cover and cook until fish is tender, 2-3 minutes.

Deseed the chillies and slice lengthwise into quarters leaving the stalk end intact. Add to the pan together with the thick coconut milk. Add salt to taste. When it comes to a simmer, stir in vinegar and take off the heat. Serves 4.