Shrimp with Coconut Milk

Bangladeshi Chingri Malai Curry (no onion, no garlic)


Shrimp with coconut sauce or “chingri malai kari” is a classic Bengali dish. At our house back in Bangladesh, it used to be made mainly for dinner parties. Once in a while it would be made just for us, and it would feel like a special occasion. It’s a rich dish – coconut milk is high in saturated fat and calories. So we couldn’t have it regularly since my parents usually liked light healthy food for everyday meals.

Also, preparing it involved a lot of work. Canned coconut milk wasn’t readily available back then in Dhaka (now it seems one can get almost everything) – so coconut milk would need to be made from scratch. Even if you were lucky enough to have coconut trees on your property in the middle of the city, the coconut conditions needed to be right. I don’t remember the details, but it was a little complicated – the coconut couldn’t be too young, it needed to be ripe enough to have flesh and milk, but not overly ripe. That made it a bit challenging of course. Otherwise, someone had to go to the market and hunt down the right coconuts.

coconut trees in the countryside, Bangladesh

It was much more fun for us kids when the coconut conditions on the trees at home were right. Someone with the skills to get coconut from the trees would somehow be summoned. I don’t know how anyone knew how to find such a person, or how news was sent to this person and how they were procured for the job on such short notice. But all of a sudden we would find out the guy had appeared and was ready, And we’d run outside to watch. He was like spiderman, sliding up the super tall tree that had no branches to grab on to, as he climbed up. All the while we waited with bated breath – for the horrible tragedy to happen. We just knew that the poor guy was going to fall down from the top of the tree and crack his skull. How awful that would be. But fortunately, this melodramatic end never came. He would just nonchalantly hang from the top like it was the easiest thing in the world, cut down the coconuts and throw them to the ground. And once he was done, he’d disappear just as quickly as he had appeared.

Making enough milk out of these coconuts was also a time consuming laborious process back then. But the ultimate taste of the malai kari made from real fresh coconut milk was unbelievable – rich, creamy, with an amazing fragrance, and mouthwateringly delicious.

not the same spiderman from childhood, another spidey during a recent visit back to Bangladesh
for context, this is how high the coconut trees are, the 2 in the top right corner

Now I can make this dish in my Manhattan kitchen easily with canned coconut milk, in less than an hour. While the canned version doesn’t have the same taste as the fresh one from my childhood, it still makes a fantastic malai kari.

My version here is a little different from the traditional recipe. I’m not using onions or garlic, keeping this fodmap-friendly. I’m also adding kaffir lime leaves at the very end for garnish and slight flavoring; traditional Bangladeshi malai kari doesn’t use them. I love the subtle citrusy flavor of kaffir lime leaves, it helps balance the richness of the coconut milk. This dish is still utterly delicious without the lime leaves, so you don’t need to use them. Friends who had this at my last dinner gathering have been asking me for the recipe and I’m happy to be finally sharing it. (I’ll make the traditional version of this dish sometime and share the recipe for that too).


Shrimp with Coconut Milk | Bangladeshi Chingri Malai Curry (no onion, no garlic)



  • 26-30 shrimp, shelled
  • 6 baby potatoes, halved
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric powder
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 inch long thick cinnamon stick
  • 4 green cardamoms
  • 6 cloves
  • 2 tablespoons ginger, minced
  • 2.5 cups coconut milk (if you want a rich and heavy sauce, you can use more coconut milk and reduce it down)
  • 2 green chilies
  • 1-2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable/canola oil
  • Small bunch (about 1/8 cup) of cilantro leaves, de-stemmed, for garnish
  • 6 kaffir lime leaves (optional)


  1. Shell the shrimp and soak in a bowl of water. After about 10 minutes, drain water and thoroughly rinse the shrimp under cold water (you can skip this step if you want; I do it because most store-bought shrimp is pre-frozen and this helps get rid of the fishy/shrimpy smell).
  2. Marinate shrimp with 1 teaspoon of the turmeric powder, and leave for 5 minutes.
  3. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan on medium-hight heat for about a minute.
  4. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and heat for another min.
  5. Add marinated shrimp and sauté for 2 minutes, stirring regularly. Remove shrimp from pan and set aside.
  6. Add the other tablespoon of oil to the hot pan. Immediately add bay leaves, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves. Let sit for 30 seconds, and then stir-fry for another 30 seconds. You’ll get a nice aroma at this point.
  7. Add ginger, stir-fry for 2-3 minutes till it starts getting brown (make sure ginger doesn’t stick to the pan and burn).
  8. Add potatoes and the remaining 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder and stir-fry for about 3 minutes (you may need to add a spoon of water if the potatoes start sticking to the the pan). Remove potatoes from the pan and set aside with the shrimp.
  9. Add coconut milk, stir throughly, scraping the ginger and spice mix from the bottom of the plan.
  10. Add salt and sugar. Cover and cook on medium heat for about 15-20 minutes till the sauce thickens (if you’re using more coconut milk, you may need to cook it for a little longer for the sauce to thicken).
  11. Add shrimp and potatoes back to the pan, cover and and cook on medium low heat for another 10 minutes. Potatoes should be soft at this point (stick a fork into one and check) and the shrimp and sauce flavors should have blended well.
  12. Turn off heat. If you’re using kaffir lime leaves, add them now (don’t cook with the lime leaves otherwise it’ll make the sauce bitter). Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves and serve with rice.
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