Leelaw’s Chilaw Crab Curry
Photo credit: Gabriele Stabile

Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon, is an island country lying in the Indian Ocean and separated from India by the Palk Strait. Its earliest occupants were hunters and gatherers who made and used fairly rough stone tools. By about the 9th century bce, people had begun to experiment with food production and irrigation and had gained access to some of the iron tools produced on the continent.

Leela’s Chilaw Crab Curry

Because Sri Lanka lies just off the southern tip of India, people wrongly assume its cuisine is identical to that of its sprawling neighbor to the north. Spices are the hallmark of both countries’ cuisines, but where Indian recipes often call for frying whole spices in oil, Sri Lankans roast and grind the same spices. Most Sri Lankan kitchens are equipped with grinding stones for just this purpose.

Typical Sri Lankan roasted curry powder is a blend of coriander, cumin, fennel, black pepper, black mustard seeds, turmeric, fenugreek, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, curry leaves, pandan leaves, and a bit of raw rice for texture. Sri Lankan curries are laced with different layers of heat from dried red chili powder, crushed flakes, and fresh finger-length green chilies. Most are red curries, but there are also black curries that use burnt coconut or toasted rice to add texture and dark color; white curries are the mildest, usually made with coconut milk and very little chili. The farther south you go, the hotter the curry.

S.H. Fernando Jr. (Rice & Curry: Sri Lankan Home Cooking)


  • 5-6 large blue crabs
  • 1/2 t turmeric powder
  • 1 T cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 t ground allspice
  • 1/2 t ground cinnamon
  • 1 t salt (or to taste)
  • 1 T raw rice
  • 1/2 t black peppercorns
  • 1 t cumin seeds
  • 3 T fresh shredded coconut
  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 T coconut oil or ghee
  • 1 red onion, chopped roughly
  • 1 sprig curry leaves
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1 2″ pandan leaf (optional)
  • 1 bunch murungu leaves (optional)
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1 C coconut milk
  • 1 T tamarind paste, soaked in 1/4 C water
  • 2 T lime juice

[Get the Recipe]

Related Articles