Karunika – Sri Lankan pawpaw curry

Words by Judy Monkhouse

Karunikaand curry

Darwin community cook, Karunika creates fantastic curries with all the care and attention and wisdom that has been passed on for many generations within her family and certainly as is customary throughout Sri Lanka. She migrated to Australia from Sri Lanka in 2009 and is delighted to share her knowledge with others. Her heritage defines all women as doctors as traditional medicine foods are at least 5,000 years old and cooking for the family entails taking into account their ages and health needs. There are 2000 plants used for food and medicine in Sri Lanka and in the past there were 2000 varieties of rice alone! Rice and other plants can still be fed by an ancient complex irrigation system consisting of reservoirs fed by rain.

Karunika feels at home in tropical Darwin and embraces the tropical lifestyle with its unique blend of cultures and cuisines. She advocates eating preferably locally grown produce which is best practice for health. It was exciting for her to find familiar fruits and vegetables like cassava, jack fruit, bananas, okra, coconut, fresh chilli and of course spices like turmeric, ginger, coriander, fennel and many more. Her advice is not to overuse spices in terms of quantities in a dish. She has offered cooking classes and even had a stall of traditional Sri Lankan food lovingly prepared at 3am to ensure freshness at the Rapid Creek markets. Her interests also extend to Indigenous bush foods and she enriches her knowledge through field trips with local people.

What a pleasure to watch Karunika prepare two varieties of papaya curry. Preparation, she said, is like meditation as you use patience and love! The meal served with rice was fragrant and delicious and shared with GULP members in the edible garden of Karunika’s home.

Papayas are so easy to grow in the Top End region if you have a little room in the garden (Male and female plants needed or bisexual plants) or they are widely available at local markets all year round.


Sri Lankan Papaya Curry


1kg half ripe papaya

I onion

1-2 green chillies

3 sprigs curry leaves

1 pandan leaf

1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds

1 tsp tumeric powder

1/2 tsp chilli powder or paprika

2 tsp Sri Lankan curry powder ( coriander 100gms, cumin 50gms, fennel 25 gms )

3 cloves garlic

2 tbsp ground mustard seeds

1tsp ground black pepper

Pinch roasted curry powder garnish ( optional)

1 and 1/2 cups thick coconut milk ( can adjust)

Salt ( preferably Himalayan)

Water 1 and 1/2 cups


  1. Peel papaya and cut into chunks. Slice onion, chop chillies.
  2. Add all ingredients except coconut milk into a pan. Mix together and cook for 8-10 minutes until papaya becomes soft. Do not overcook.
  3. Add coconut milk. Mix gently while cooking for another 5-8 minutes.
  4. Add salt and serve with rice
karunikaand Em

Green Papaya Curry (a different one, pictured left) 


1 green papaya

Mellum mix

3 cloves garlic

1 cup freshly grated coconut

4 sprigs curry leaves (remove stems)

1 green chilli

1 tsp tumeric

Pinch salt

1 tsp ground black pepper

1 cup water


  1. Peel papaya, slice lengthways then into thin, small pieces and place into pan
  2. Add water and bring to the boil
  3. Blend Mellum mix in processor. Add to papaya
  4. Simmer until papaya’s tender

Bitter Green Salad

Finely slice ‘dark leaf’ – Aguna Kola. Add a sliced red onion and a handful of freshly grated coconut then squeeze half a lemon or lime as dressing.

This community cook recipe is made possible by City of Darwin Environment Grant. If you know a community cook in Darwin that uses local produce and would like to share their story, please email gulpcommunity@gmail.com $100 is available for the cook, plus ingredients to show our small team at a gathering.

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