Karuvadu Thokku


Despite having Malayali roots, my idea of my neighbouring state’s Tamil cuisine for a long time was about the stereotypical idlis, dosas, and vadas. It was only after I found a Tamil partner that I began paying closer attention to the diversity of Tamil cuisines. In the process of unlearning, Karuvadu was a treasure I found and fell in love with.

Mustard seeds ½ teaspoon
Cumin seeds ¼ teaspoon
Fenugreek seeds ¼ teaspoon
Onions (finely chopped) 2
Tomatoes (chopped) 2
Garlic 1 clove
Chilli powder 1 tablespoon
Coriander powder 1 tablespoon
Tamarind water 1 tablespoon
Curry leaves 8-10 pcs
Gingelly oil 1 tablespoon
Dried fish of your choice 200 grams
Salt To taste

The thokku can be made using utensils typically available in most kitchens.

Soak dried ripe tamarind—about the size of a small lemon—in a cup of water for 20 minutes, and gently squeeze it to integrate the pulp in the water. Set aside 1 tablespoon of the mixture; be sure that you separate out the solids and retain only the tamarind water.

Soak the dried fish in hot water for 10-15 minutes and then clean it. This will help remove the excess salt in the fish; then drain the water.


Chop the onion, tomato and coriander, and finish all other prep before you start cooking on the stove.



Add 1 tablespoon of gingelly oil in a kadhai. Once the oil is hot, add mustard, cumin and fenugreek seeds.


Let the seeds splutter, then add onion, with the flame on high. Sauté for a couple of minutes.


Lower the flame, and garlic and tomato. Continue to sauté until the tomato becomes mushy and the garlic begins to smell cooked.


Add chilli and coriander powders, and then dried fish; sauté the mixture for three minutes.


Add ¼ glass of water, and let it cook for eight more minutes.


Add a tablespoon of tamarind water, and cook for 5 minutes, before you take the thokku off the stove.


Garnish it with curry leaves, and add salt to taste.


Karvadu thokku tastes best with rasam and rice.

Malar Arivazhagan is a homemaker who enjoys her slowed down pace of life, dedicating her time to what she calls ‘graceful aging and healing’. Hailing from Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu, she has lived in many cities over the years, but has found her home in Chennai.


Shruti Tharayil, founder of Forgotten Greens and family friend of Malar Arivazhagan, documented this recipe for The Locavore. Read her article ‘Dried Fish: Going Beyond Smell’ here.

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