Mom’s Nyonya Curry Chicken

What? Nyonya Curry? Another curry recipe? Tbh, I only make a handful of curries from scratch. A generic vegetable curry, a Jamaican chicken curry, sometimes a tikka masala or butter chicken and mom’s curry chicken. Everything else comes out of a packet and I amp it up with the holy trinity of curries – onion, garlic or ginger. I have never made a green curry from scratch because the ingredients list makes my eye water, whereas these curries above usually work well with pre-made curry powder or just a few whole spices that I grind up.

Nyonya/ peranakan food is a style of cuisine common to South East Asia, particularly in Singapore and Malaysia. The cuisine evolved from Chinese immigrants who settled in Singapore, Malaysian and parts of Indonesia and merged the 2 flavour profiles of Chinese and Malay food. Nyonya chicken curry is simply a type of curry, similiar in a way to how there are many variations of fish curry in India. The same goes for this chicken curry. It is a spiced coconutty curry that Mom made at least once a month using freshly ground curry powder from her favourite spice vendor and we don’t even know what goes in the spice mix. You can make your own spice mix and I will list the ingredients below, but ready made curry powder works just as well as long you lightly toast it first. Candlenuts are used to thicken the curry and you can substitute with macadamia nuts, but do not omit either. I always liked having it with good old sliced white bread, but serve with basmati rice or roti’s. The curry freezes well and you’ll be thankful you made a large pot. Do not freeze the potatoes though, the get a bit mushy and watery after freezing.


Serves 5-6

  • 1-1.5kg chicken drumsticks or Maryland (I tend to use less chicken because I like having lots of gravy)
  • 2 large waxy potatoes (peeled and cut into 4cm chunks)
  • 6-8 shallots (or 2 medium brown onions)
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 3 stalks lemongrass (white part only and cut into thin spirals)
  • 6 candlenuts (or macadamia nuts)
  • 15g dried chillis (soaked in hot water till soft)
  • 4 large red chillis
  • 4 sprigs of curry leaves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 star anise
  • 4 cloves
  • 3 tbsp Baba’s curry powder (or any strong curry powder) + 1 tsp turmeric powder (or 1 tbsp cumin seeds, 2 tbsp coriander, 1 tsp fennel – toasted and ground, then add 1 tsp turmeric powder)
  • 6 tbsp oil (yes you need that much. Do not skimp on this)
  • 1 cup coconut milk (250ml)
  • 2-3 cups of water
  • salt to taste


  1. Grind all chillis, onion, garlic, lemongrass and candlenuts until smooth. This is called the rempah.
  2. Heat a large saucepan or wok on low heat and toast the curry powder for 2-3 mins on low heat. Remove and set aside when done.
  3. Lightly rinse the pan and heat on medium heat then add oil.
  4. Add the rempah (blended onions etc) and fry for 8-10mins, stirring continuously until the rempah and oil separates. You will see little pools of oil on top of the rempah when it is ready.
  5. Add the chicken, 2 tsp salt, curry leaves, remaining spices and curry powder and stir fry for 2 mins.
  6. Add coconut milk and enough water to cover chicken and cook for 25 mins, stirring occasionally.
  7. Add potatoes and cook for further 10-15min until potatoes are tender.
  8. Add more salt to taste if required.
  9. Serve with bread, rotis/ parathas or basmati rice.

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