Prawns have been one of my favourite foods. However like most bottom feeding or filter feeding creatures, (prawns, mussels, crabs, cat fish etc..) it causes allergies -serious allergies in some people. I know of friends and relatives, who would die without medical aid if they ever ate one or more of these foods, yet they long to eat these forbidden foods. In fact we bury the waste from the above foods as if the household dog or cat eats the waste, it throws up in no time.

This post is for those who can eat prawns but have always bought ready made prawns or have eaten out because they do not know how to clean them. For the record, I’ve known people who cook prawns whole in their shells and leave the nasty job of shelling them to the diners. However, back home in Udupi, we have always shelled them prior to cooking. I recently ate barbecued prawns which were partly shelled, i.e their tails were left on!

Last Christmas when I went home to Udupi, I documented a lot of different stuff. However lack of time  and sorting out the innumerable photographs and juggling work and home left me floundering. There were so many posts spinning in my head that it caused a kind of paralysis. I’m back in action now as the only way of resolving this situation is to write -one post at a time, even though it seems that there is no time to write. So here goes another howto…

The prawn, before starting on it. It has a needle like projection from around its nose and this can prick you if you haphazardly pick up a handful of unshelled prawns.

Back home, some sea food in Tulu is  classified as Nanji. This includes the prawn in addition to the Mackerel. What this term denotes is that if you have an open wound, eating/handling this food will exacerbate the wound, so these foods are usually avoided.

Looking at the prawn or shrimp above, you can see apart from its long whiskers, that it has a sharp needle attached to its nose section. If you haphazardly pick up a handful of prawns, you might get hurt. Don’t forget that it is nanji, if you prick yourself, it will hurt and be tender for many days.

Note the section where its “back” meets its head. It looks like a gill, but is in fact a helmet like shell covering for its head. We will start from there.

Please use both your hands. It was awkward for me holding my heavy camera with one hand. This technique applies for any size of prawn. It is easier with the big so called jumbo prawns but requires more dexterity in the fingers for smaller prawns -you might end up squishing them!

Gently pry off the head cover on both sides of the prawn…
…and peel it off towards the front. It opens somewhat like the cockpit cover on fighter jets
Note all that yellowish junk on top? Pinch it off gently until only white flesh remains
Next, hold it upside down and peel off the segments covering the flesh starting between the legs . It is like shelling a pea pod, only this pod is made up of segments instead of one whole shell.
This is how the segments come off
When you reach the end of the prawn, the last few segments might pop out together. at this point hold the tail of the prawn with your right hand (In the picture, the tail is touching my middle finger) and gently wiggle it off the prawn. Do it too forcefully, and you will leave some meat within the tail shell which will be difficult to get out. Finally we need to remove the digestive tract from the prawn before it is ready for the pot


Hold the prawn like this in one of your hands with its back facing outwards.
Pinch off a teeny weeny bit of flesh from the back. the digestive tract is in view now.
Here the digestive tract is pulled off from the tail end and is yet to be pulled off from the mouth end. Pull it very gently or it will break off and become impossible to remove.

Do the same for the other end and you are done!


We either fry the prawns, add them to a gravy or stir fry them with potatoes

CREDITS: | Manorama Soans | Sunayana Walters |

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