Tamil Feasts' Unforgettable Crab Curry

Throughout July we’re sharing a series of incredible Sri Lankan recipes by Tamil Feasts (விருந்து). This brilliant Melbourne-based social enterprise is supporting recently-settled asylum seekers through the celebration of food and culture.

The feasts, held at The Merri Table, are all prepared by Tamil men currently seeking asylum in Australia. Established in May 2015, the initiative provides an opportunity for the chefs to share the food heritage of their homeland with the wider community, who can, in turn, show their support while enjoying some deliciously authentic fare!

Chefs Niro, Nirma and Nigethan became friends while they were living in detention in Broadmeadows. Following six-and-a-half years in detention, Nirma was released, but struggled to find work. Encouraged by CERES hospitality teacher Dori Ellington and the community, he decided to cook a feast. This event was a huge success and the initiative evolved into weekly, vegetarian feasts. These quickly began to book up, and so, when Niro was released, they started catering more frequently (plus playing more Tamil love songs!). When Nigethan were released, the menu expanded to include seafood and meat, and increased to the current three nights per week!

Today, Nigethan shares his spectacular Crab Curry with us. As show-stopping as this dish looks, he assures us it’s pretty simple to make!


Tamil Feasts‘ chefs preparing a meal for an event. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The Tamil Feasts team: chefs Niro, Nirma, project coordinator Emma McCann, and chefs Richman and Nigethan. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The hero ingredient: blue swimmer crabs! Surface from The Establishment Studios and napery from Mr Draper. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli. Styling Assistant – Ashley Simonetto.

Niro in the Kitchen at The Merri TablePhoto – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Nigethan from Tamil Feasts‘ impressive Crab Curry. Surface from The Establishment Studios and napery from Mr Draper. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files. Styling – Annie Portelli. Styling Assistant – Ashley Simonetto.

3rd of July 2018

I do most of the menu planning and ordering at Tamil Feasts. Each day, we have a discussion about what the menu is for that night and how many people we need to cook for. I often speak to my wife who is in Sri Lanka to ask her for advice on the recipes.

We cook up different curries, dahl, salad, rice, chutney, sambal and of course, the favourite, pappadums. We are very busy all night serving and meeting people. We have many volunteers who come in and help, and many have become close friends!

This crab curry is great for dinner or lunch – we typically have a big lunch in Sri Lanka but in Australia, I think this one might be better for dinner!

Ingredients (serves 4)

4 blue swimmer crabs, cleaned
1 large red onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 tsp cardamom pods
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp fennel seeds
5 fresh curry leaves
1 cinnamon stick
2 tbsp mild curry powder
2 tsp cumin powder
2 tsp turmeric
1 tin coconut milk
2 tbsp tamarind
salt to taste


Heat oil in a large stock pot, over high heat.

Add the mustard seeds, cumin, fennel, garlic, cardamom pods, onion – cook for a couple of minutes until the onion has softened.

Add the fresh curry leaves, cinnamon stick, then the curry powder, half of the cumin powder and turmeric. Season with salt.

Stir well and then pour in the coconut milk.

Add the cleaned crabs and cover with a lid. Cook for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine tamarind and ½ a cup of water and allow to soak, before squeezing together in your hand to extract the juice.

Add the tamarind liquid (not pulp) and remaining cumin powder and turmeric.

Cook for another 5 minutes.

Serve with rice, and a cold beer!


How can you support Tamil Feasts?

‘Come along and enjoy a delicious feast, bring your friends, meet the guys and welcome them into the community! Sign up to volunteer and learn how to make the best curry in town,’ welcomes project coordinator Emma McCann.

‘Each night one of the men will share their own personal stories with our diners. They also love visiting tables and chatting with people about everything and anything. Through food and sharing their stories, they are breaking down barriers.’

Run by not-for-profit CERES, Tamil Feasts are very popular and bookings are essential. Check out the website for more information.

Recent Food