Nyonya Chicken Curry originates in Penang, but now you can enjoy this tasty dish at home by following this authentic Malaysian chicken curry recipe.
Nyonya cuisine, also known as Peranakan food, was created by the Baba Nonya, or Peranakan Chinese; Chinese settlers that came to South East Asia, adopted and absorbed the local culture and inter-married with the local Malays.
They took on the phrase Baba Nyonya to refer to themselves, which in Indonesian simply means men and women respectively. The women were considered responsible for feeding the family and therefore the type of food they made became referred to as Nyonya cuisine.
Unsurprisingly, Nyonya food is a mix of Chinese and Malaysian ingredients and spices as well as an amalgamation of cooking methods, creating unique flavours only found in this region.
And damn, it’s good. So much so that Penang is often considered the ‘foodie capital of the world’ as the dishes on offer are so diverse and the flavours exquisite.
Penang is truly foodie heaven, and there’s a huge variety of dishes I recommend you try, but one of the classics has to be a Nyonya curry, also known as Nyonya kari kay.
When I was in Penang, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to learn how to make this Malaysian chicken curry (kari ayam) from one of the pros.
Pearly Kee is a famous Nyonya chef, born and bred in Penang. She runs several cooking classes on the island, at both the Tropical Spice Garden and her own cooking school in George Town called the Penang Homecooking School and has also published several Nyonya cookbooks made up of her favourite home recipes.
Here’s her recipe for a classic Nyonya chicken curry, along with a selection of side dishes to enjoy it with.
Nyonya chicken curry ingredients
- 3 chicken legs
- 3 potatoes
- 100g thick coconut milk
- 2ltr water
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 4 star anise
- 4 cloves
- 1tsp salt
- 6tps oil
Curry spice paste A
- 4 chillies
- 2 tsp finely cut lemongrass
- 80g of onion
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1/3 cup of water
Curry spice paste B
- 2 tbsp chilli powder
- 2 tsp turmeric powder
- 2 tsp ground coriander
- 2 tbsp jintan manis (sweet cumin). If unable to find, can replace with ground fennel.
- 2 tbsp jintan putih (white cumin). If unable to find can replace with ‘normal’ cumin.
Nyonya chicken curry cooking instructions
Nyonya cuisine is very much not fast food – the dishes take time to put together.
With a Nyonya chicken curry kapitan recipe you start by making the curry paste. Take the ingredients for paste A and liquidise in a mini blender. Once smooth add in the dry herbs for curry paste B and blitz once again to made a smooth, well-mixed paste.
Next, chop up the chicken legs into bite-size pieces, and peel and quarter your potatoes. Skim the thickest cream off your coconut cream and set aside, before mixing the rest of the cream with the water. Now it’s time to get cooking.
Heat up the cooking oil in your pot and then sauté the curry paste, cinnamon sticks, star anise and cloves for five minutes. Make sure to cook over medium heat or low, as you don’t want the spices to burn. If you do, you’ll end up with a bitter curry.
Now add the potatoes and coconut cream/water mixture, brill to the boil and leave for 10 mins. The next step is to add the chicken, and mix well. Add the salt to taste, then leave to cook until the sauce thickens. Finally, add the coconut cream and cook for three more minutes on a high heat.
Serve up your Malaysian coconut chicken curry, and enjoy!
What to have with a Nyonya curry
Often a Nyonya chicken curry is served with nasi kunyit; turmeric glutinous rice, which is super tasty. However, Pearly serves hers with both a bread and vegetable side dish.
During our cooking class, Pearly taught us how to make a local speciality, roti jala and also stir-fried lotus roots.
Roti jala can be challenging to make well, and you do need special equipment in the form of a roti jala bottle or cup, but I highly recommend having a go as they’re good fun to try and make.
As for the stir-fried lotus roots, well it’s an easy, and delicious way to get several of your 5-a-day!
Roti Jala ingredients
- 220g bread flour
- 1tsp salt
- 2 tsp oil
- 2 eggs
- 350g milk or coconut milk
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
Roti Jala cooking instructions
Put all ingredients into a mixer/food processor and blend for 1-2 minutes until smooth. Set aside for a minimum of 30 minutes.
Pour the mixture into your roti jala cup and heat a non-stick pan over a low heat, then, gently pour the mixture into the pan while moving the bottle/cup in a circle to create a lacy pattern.
Leave to cook, then when ready gently remove from the pan and serve either folded in half, or quarter or roll the roti jala up.
Stir-fried lotus roots ingredients
- 3 tubes of lotus roots
- 3 celery stalks
- 1 carrot
- 200g jicama. If unable to find can replace with water chestnuts.
- 100g gingko
- 100g macadamia nuts
- 1tsp salt
- 4 garlic cloves
- 2 tbsp sesame oil
- 2 tbsp canola oil
- 3 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp cornflour
Stir-fried lotus roots cooking instructions
Prepare the veg by slicing the lotus roots, carrots and jicama, and cutting the celery into ½ inch chunks. Mix the cornflour with 6 tbsps of water and set aside.
Boil a pan of water, add salt and blanch the vegetables and nuts for three minutes. Remove and then put them into a bowl of ice-cold water to stop them from continuing to cook.
Put both oils into a wok and heat. Crush the garlic and sauté until aromatic. Throw in the vegetables and sauté for a few minutes before adding the soy sauce and thicken with the cornflour mix. Dish up and enjoy!
A delicious Nyonya meal!
So there you have it, a delicious, authentic Nyonya meal to delight the taste buds. You know no idea how hungry writing this up has made me!
If any of you give this a go, I’d love for you to share any photos or stories of your own Nyonya chicken curry creations.
Also, if you made and enjoyed this meal, I highly recommend checking out Pearly Kee’s YouTube channel for more delicious Nyonya food. Oh, and while you’re there, why not subscribe to the Ladies What Travel channel! 😉