Kapitan Chicken Curry “Kapitan Kay”

This is a traditional Nyonya dish that gave a spiced sourish twist to the chicken curry. Locally known as “Kapitan kay” (“kay” is chicken in Hokkien), there are different renditions to this in different households so there is no right or wrong way to making it. A note of warning though, the preparations for this dish is a tedious process due to the myriad spices and herbs used to create the curry’s aromatic fragrance. 

This dish derived its name from back in the colonial era when there were Kapitan Cina who acted as the government officials in Southeast Asian countries. It was said that a Nyonya cook in northern Malaya concocted this curry and served it to a Kapitan Cina. The Kapitan liked it so much that he asked for it regularly. Soon, the dish became the Kapitan’s chicken curry. 

Kapitan Chicken Curry

Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Total Time 50 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Chinese, Nyonya
Servings 4 people


Curry paste

  • 5 cloves garlic (bawang putih) coarsely chopped
  • 2 stalks lemongrass (serai) finely sliced
  • 4 shallots (bawang merah) coarsely chopped
  • 2 inches galangal (lengkuas) coarsely chopped
  • 1 inch turmeric (kunyit) coarsely chopped
  • 2 red chillies coarsely chopped
  • 3 dried chilies coarsely chopped
  • 3 candlenuts (buah keras)
  • 1 tsp prawn paste (belacan)

Other ingredients

  • 1/2 chicken cut into 12 pieces
  • 1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 8 tbsp cooking oil
  • 50 ml water
  • 100 ml coconut milk
  • 2 shallot diced
  • 4-6 leaves kaffir lime leaves
  • 30 ml tamarind juice (assam jawa) use half, another half to keep for later
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt


Curry paste

  • Soak the dried chillies in warm water for 10 minutes. Remove seeds.
  • Place all ingredients into blender and blend with 1/3 cup water until you get a paste.


  • Season the chicken pieces in the soy sauce for about 30 mins
  • Heat 4tbs cooking oil in a frying pan, pan fry the chicken until browned and about 60% cooked.
  • Remove from pan and set aside.

Time to start cooking

  • Heat up 4tbs cooking oil in a frying pan/ wok, pour in the paste and fry till fragrant. 
  • Add in the kaffir lime leaves and fry for another minute. Add in the chicken pieces.
  • Continue to stir over medium heat making sure the chicken pieces are coated in the curry paste.
  • When it is aromatic, add in 50ml of the coconut milk and turn up the heat to let it boil for about 5 minutes.
  • Add in 15ml of the tamarind juice and turn down the heat to let the chicken simmer for about 10 minutes.
  • Add in the diced shallots, salt, sugar and remaining coconut milk. Let it come to a boil. If you prefer a sourish curry, add in the remaining tamarind juice. 
  • Check the flavours. Add in salt and sugar to your taste.
  • Serve hot with rice or even with bread. 


  1. To extract tamarind juice, soak the tamarind paste in warm water for about 15 minutes. This is to extract the flavours. Do not use a sieve, pour it over your hands to remove the seeds. This is so that you still get the thick tamarind juice that will be removed if you used a sieve. 
  2. If you like more heat to your curry, add in 2 more red chilies and 2 more dried chilies for that spicier oomph. Alternately, if you prefer something milder, reduce the number of chillies to 1 red chilli and 2 dried chillies. 
Keyword chinese nyonya chicken, kapitan chicken, nyonya curry, nyonya kapitan chicken