Prawn Masala

Pakistani Prawn Masala

Lahore. The city of my birth. The city of the humble samosa.

That flaky, deep-fried triangular parcel stuffed with cumin-laced, spicy potatoes you buy from the dhaba; kiosk, from that little alley behind Liberty Market, where they sell glass bangles, twirled and twisted organza scarves and sparkly rhinestone-studded sandals.

Greasy and stuffed into a khaki paper bag, you bring the samosas home and eat them hot, dipping them in a red, tangy-tart chili garlic sauce which comes out of that famous Mitchell’s glass bottle.

And after that first bite, you slip your finger tips into the handle of your teacup and take a sip of cardamom-fragranced milky tea, to wash it all down.

With each sip, the tannins burn your mouth even more.

That is my high.

And then we have Karachi.

The city where they refer to the street hawker’s ‘pappu burger‘ with a more classy name- the ‘bun kebab‘.

Us Lahoris know that it is essentially the same thing- a shami kebab tucked between two soft, pillowy buns, slathered with mint chutney, tomatoes, cucumbers for textural crunch and some onions thrown in for that extra edge.

Us Lahoris are quite particular about the provenance of our dishes, but we’ll let Karachi have their ‘bun kebab‘.

As long as they don’t call it a ‘pappu burger‘.

Pakistani Prawn Masala

But more importantly, Karachi is the city where they whip up the best prawn masala.

Prawns are flash-fried in an orb-like steel karahi with a heady punch of ginger and garlic; then they add tomatoes, stirring it all till they become sticky and jammy and start to cling to the glossy surface of the prawns; and finally, a pinch or two or three of secret spices.

This is the prawn masala from BBQ Tonight -pardon the cheesy website, it doesn’t reflect on the ‘I-want-to-eat-my-fingers-this-is-so-good’ quality of their dishes.

Pakistani Prawn Masala

I don’t think it is possible to perfectly replicate BBQ Tonight‘s prawn masala.

I think it has less to do with the saltiness of the ocean near Karachi’s border which seeps into the prawns; or the tartness of the tomatoes in Pakistan and more to do with the fact that I always have this dish when I land in Karachi at my sister’s home, surrounded by my family and friends.

Scooping it up with a chewy, crackly paratha, I chatter away in my jet-lagged state with my sister, brother-in-law and best friends, AJ and KH, who gather around the table to meet me upon my arrival.

My fingertips all greasy from the paratha and spicy prawns, chugging  it down with some Diet Coke, I know and feel that I am home.

Pakistani Prawn Masala
Prawn Masala
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Prawn Masala

Yield: 2
Author: Shayma Saadat


  • 2 tbsp corn oil (or any other neutral oil)
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced finely width-wise
  • 500 g raw prawns, de-veined, shells and tails removed
  • 1/4 tsp haldi (turmeric powder)
  • 1 tsp zeera (cumin powder)
  • 1 tsp sukha dhania (ground coriander powder)
  • 1/2 tsp red chili powder (or add more, to taste)
  • 2 medium-sized tomatoes, de-seeded and diced (1cm)- try to find tomatoes which are a bit firm
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves and stalks


  • Place a medium-size wok, or a 25cm (approximately 10 in) frying pan on medium heat.
  • Add oil and garlic and sauté for two minutes, till fragrant. The garlic should not darken in colour.
  • Add prawns, haldi, zeera powder, sukha dhania powder, salt and red chili powder and continue to sauté for three more minutes till the prawns turn opaque.
  • Turn heat to medium-high and add tomatoes. Give the prawns a whirl with your spatula, and after one minute, turn the heat off. You don't want to overcook the tomatoes, the skin should remain almost in tact.
  • Sprinkle with coriander stalks and leaves and serve with crusty bread or steamed basmati.

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  1. Yayyyy a new post!

    Really nice story – until you can go back to BBQ tonight, this recipe is the perfect substitute. 🙂 Also love your lil bowls.

  2. Holy Moly…your article and photos left me completely craving each and every one of the dishes that you described. I would love to tag along with you to these far away cities that I can barely even imagine.

  3. It’s amazing the effect the situation you’re doing the eating in has on the food you’re actually chewing on. Some food just tastes better in certain places: fish and chips by the sea, bbq sausages outside a tent, good beer in a good pub. So important. That’s what the best restaurants realise I think.

    The prawn masala looks ace – not entirely sure I would be able to limit myself to a single wee bowl of it to be honest 😉

  4. I just love, love, LOVE… your way of describing the, apparently, most trivial of things. It makes them so much more important and cherished.

    And I was grinning cheek-to-cheek (I am reading this while in library at my university and people eyed me weirdly, smiling at my laptop screen) about the details of samosa buying and subsequently eating it with the quintessentially Pakistani Mitchell’s Ketchup, not to forget, in the foggy Lahori winters 🙂

    Keep on making us smile, you are an inspiration for me!

  5. Love your story and photos. What a lovely use of spices for the prawns. I’m impressed that the samosas even make it home. 😉

  6. Hi!
    I’m Sheeba’s (Masood’s wife) sister and a fan since Yassi introduced me to your website. In fact, I use many of your articles to teach students how to use food to weave a narrative about a past experience. I made them read about Yassi’s date cake and by the end of it they all said ‘Miss, this woman’s a goddess!’ – appropos you and mum in law. Well done!

  7. Made this for Christmas Eve dinner with mum along with Aloo Baingan with Basmati, as we wrapped pressies and baked cookies. These prawns! THESE PRAWNS! The flavour is fantastic. This is my new fave. dish!

  8. Exquisite as always Appa! Food looks stunning and delightful and the memories are deeply heart-warming. Thank you for being you! 🙂

  9. Love the way your words invoke the essence of Pakistan and the very flavor and aromas of the cities! the prawns look absolutely to die for! 🙂

  10. wow that looks freaking good. I had this masala prawns thing by the cinnamon kitchen, a very famous restaurant here in london, it was just a small bite, a taster thing (or else I would never have been able to afford it) and this totally reminds me of that. and on top of that fluffy, ultra long basmati rice, yum.

  11. love the way you write about Lahore and Karachi,i am from Peshawar ,but when i see this its like a part of me because i am also Pakistani but have afghani roots.

  12. Pappu Burger – what a cute name :)I have a very very big weakness for prawns of any kind. This is such a quick easy recipe and I can totally see myself licking the grease of my fingers from the paratha and the masala prawn. and for a change the so typical “Masala” does not have onions to fry.

  13. On a recent 1 day office trip to Khi, the Khi branch had lunch catered from a place called Biriyani of The Seas. Fantastic Prawn Masala. They also serve Prawn Nihari (Blasphemy against Nihari)
    I have not had BBQ’s in KHI though I tried the one in Lahore. The prawns were rubbery & overcooked & thats why I guess they took seafood off the menu here, don’t know if it’s back or not.
    Love the pictures, Prawns & rice perfect combo.

  14. This recipe looks and promises to be a masterpiece.. I love a recipe done to perfection and it would be fantastic if you could share the recipe of those crumbly parathas you rave about.. coz that would just take the meal to whole new level in my opinion.. love the magic your words and pictures weave..

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