Nyonya Chicken Curry (Nyonya Kari Ayam)

This is a traditional Nyonya dish that the northern Straits Chinese in Penang have adopted and adapted from Malay traditions. Locally, it is know as the Nyonya Curry Kay (“kay” is chicken in Hokkien) and despite its bright yellowish and orange tint, it is a mild curry infused with spices for a flavourful meal. This thick, aromatic curry can enjoyed with a bowl of rice or with bread.

Nyonya Chicken Curry (Nyonya Kari Ayam)

Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Total Time 40 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Chinese, Nyonya
Servings 6 people


Curry Paste

  • 4  fresh red chillies cut and remove seeds
  • 4 dried chillies soaked, then cut and remove seeds
  • 2 stalks lemongrass (serai) flattened and finely sliced
  • 15 shallots (bawang merah) peeled and chopped in half
  • 1 1/2 inches fresh turmeric (kunyit) finely sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic (bawang putih) peeled and chopped 
  • 50 ml water

Spice A

  • 2 tbsp chilli powder
  • 2 tbsp cumin powder (serbuk jintan putih)
  • 2 tbsp coriander powder (serbuk ketumbar)

Spice B

  • 1 1/2 tbsp fennel seeds (jintan manis)
  • 2 pcs cinnamon stick (kayu manis)
  • 1 star anise (bunga lawang)
  • 4 cloves (bunga cengkeh)

Other Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 whole chicken chopped into bite-size pieces, clean and pat dry 
  • 3 potatoes peeled and cut into wedges 
  • 250 ml fresh coconut milk (santan)
  • 60 ml thick coconut cream (krim kelapa pekat)
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 400 ml water


  • Blend all of the curry paste ingredients until you get a thick paste. Add in Spices A and stir. Set aside.
  • Heat 4tbs cooking oil in a pan. Sauté the fennel seeds, cinnamon, star anise and cloves over low heat until fragrant.
  • Add in the blended curry paste and continue to sauté over low heat. The paste will bubble and dry as you sauté and once it is aromatic, add the chicken pieces. Stir the chicken in the pan until it is coated with the paste. Keep the heat low as you stir fry the chicken in the paste for about a minute, remember to turn the chicken until all sides cooked. 
  • Add in the potatoes and fresh coconut milk. Add in 200ml of water, make sure the liquid covers the chicken pieces so if it is insufficient, add more water. Cover the pan and let it simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes. 
  • Uncover and stir the mixture and check to make sure the potatoes are cooked through. Let the mixture boil over medium heat, stirring constantly so that it doesn’t burn. Lower the heat and let it simmer uncovered until the gravy has thickened. 
  • Add in the thick coconut milk and salt. Bring it to a boil. Check the flavours. Add more salt according to taste. Once it has come to a boil, turn off the heat and serve warm. 


If you do not have access to fresh coconut milk, you can always get thick coconut cream sold in boxes in supermarkets. You dilute 20ml of coconut cream in 220ml water to get coconut milk.
Keyword chinese nyonya chicken, curry chicken, nyonya curry, nyonya curry chicken