kari ayam – malaysian curry chicken

Malaysian curry chicken or kari ayam is what happens when India goes traveling. Familiar spices slammed up against the flavours of south east Asia. Just. Good. Eating.

Never heard of kari ayam? Time to change that. It’s addictive. Think curry flavours with even more flavours. Coconut milk. Haunting notes from star anise. And lemongrass to really mix things up. Puts a smile on your face and a glow in your stomach.

Kari Ayam is Indian meets Thailand

I’m probably going to get in trouble for saying this. But to me it, kari ayam has many of the flavours of a South Indian curry. Coconut milk. Check. Curry leaves. Check. Garlic and ginger. Check. Big spices. Check.

But then you add lemongrass. A bit of fish sauce. Star anise. You might not think that changes everything. But it does. Just like that. Amazing.

Serving bowl of kari ayam from above.

Malaysian curry chicken needs the right curry powder

I know. I know. Curry powder? Who uses that? How can this be a serious recipe if it calls for curry powder? Trust me. Kari ayam is best with a Malaysian blend.

Don’t substitute the electric yellow stuff that you get at the grocery store. That’s just wrong. Malaysian curry chicken uses meat curry powder. That’s what it’s called. Meat curry powder. Malays use it. And so do I. Because it works. Because it’s delicious.

I use Babahs’ brand. Not because I have tried every Malaysian curry powder in the world. But because a Malay foodie friend told me to use it. And I can get it. Shopping for Malaysian is not easy where I live…

There are other brands. Probably not a lot different. So if you can find something from Malaysia go for it.

Cook your potatoes separately

You don’t have to do this. But I do. And I do it because I don’t like overdone chicken. Once you put potatoes into a dish you wait for potatoes to be done. Some days that takes too long.

And that means overdone chicken. The dark meat used here is more forgiving than white. But even still. Overdone is overdone. Not good.

So I cook the potatoes separately. Not completely. But most of the way. And I save the water. There’s starch in the water. And that thickens the curry a bit. So I use it instead of stock.

Kari Ayam and rice in a bowl from the front

Kari Ayam doesn’t need to be mild

A lot of Malaysian curry chicken recipes are pretty tame. Maybe that’s a bit overstated. Maybe not though. This version has a bit of bite.

It’s not blow a hole in the back of your head hot. Not even close. But it does have a little zing. Unless you start adding Kashmiri chili powder. Then it gets spicy.

There’s more spice. A lot more spice. I use 5 tablespoons of curry powder. Seem like a lot? Not to me. It takes a lot to give it the big flavours I want. You could probably add more…

Table scene with kari ayam in a bowl with rice next to a serving platter filled with curry.

This is a saucy curry

Don’t think this is one of those lush Indian curries. Kari Ayam is a saucy curry. Almost soupy. Like laksa.

So make sure there’s a spoon on the table. To get every last drop. Because if you don’t people are going to pick up their bowls and lick them. Which is flattering. But not very elegant.

Malaysian curry chicken. It’s for when you want something a little different. But still magically delicious.

Kari ayam and rice in a bowl from above.
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4.67 from 12 votes

kari ayam – malaysian curry chicken

Kari ayam is a great way to mix up your curry repertoire. It's kind of like Indian but not really. What it is is sure to please.
Course Main Course
Cuisine Malaysian
Keyword kari ayam, malaysian chicken curry
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Servings 4
Calories 737kcal
Author romain | glebekitchen


malaysian curry chicken

  • 8 chicken thighs or a mix of drumsticks and thighs
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 inch cinnamon bark (cassia)
  • 2 potatoes coarsely chopped (yukon gold works well)
  • 1 stalk lemongrass
  • 5 sprigs fresh curry leaves (leaves removed from stems, stems discarded)
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 cups coconut milk
  • 4 tbsp neutral oil (e.g. vegetable or corn oil)

curry paste

  • 3 large shallots
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 inch ginger root
  • 5 tbsp malaysian curry powder
  • 0-2 tsp kashmiri chili powder depending on your spice tolerance (see note)
  • 3 tbsp neutral oil plus enough water to puree the paste


Make the curry paste

  • Combine the shallots, ginger, garlic, Malaysian curry powder, kashmiri chili powder and oil in a blender.
  • Add a couple tablespoons of water. Puree. If it won't go add more water a tablespoon at a time until it does. In my blender it takes around 5 tablespoons of water. Every blender is different.

Cook your potatoes

  • Cook the potatoes in salted water until just barely done. They will cook a little longer in the curry. Reserve one cup of the cooking water. Set the potatoes aside.

Malaysian curry chicken

  • Heat the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil in a pot large enough to hold the final curry over medium low heat. When the oil is hot add the cinnamon and star anise. Let cook for 15-20 seconds.
  • Add the curry paste. Cook the curry paste, stirring occasionally, until the oil separates. Cook another two or three minutes after that. This should take about 10 minutes total. You don't want to skip this. Frying the paste cooks the raw spice flavour out. Smooths the flavours out.
  • Add the chicken and stir to combine. Cook for a minute or two. You aren't trying to brown the chicken here.
  • Add 1/2 cup of the reserved potato cooking water. Stir, scraping up any bits on the bottom until it's pretty well combined.
  • Add the coconut milk, fish sauce and curry leaves. Stir to combine.
  • Slip in the lemongrass stalk and bring to a simmer. Cover. Cook for 20 minutes.
  • Add the potatoes. Stir to combine and simmer until the chicken is done. This takes another 10-15 minutes.
  • Serve with jasmine rice and a flat bread like roti or parathas.


The Kashmiri chili powder is optional. It depends on how spicy you like it. Leave it out and it’s medium spicy. One teaspoon moves it into spicy territory. Two teaspoons is pretty hot. Up to you.


Serving: 4servings | Calories: 737kcal | Carbohydrates: 14g | Protein: 44g | Fat: 58g | Saturated Fat: 25g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 194mg | Sodium: 910mg | Potassium: 1012mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 222IU | Vitamin C: 55mg | Calcium: 111mg | Iron: 8mg
Kari ayam or Malaysian curry chicken is India meets Asia delicious!

12 thoughts on “kari ayam – malaysian curry chicken”

  1. Hi, I have just found your site and this chicken curry looks delicious.
    I have tried to make this before with another recipe and bought some Babas meat powder online but the curry was so bitter that it was inedible. I couldn’t work out whether it was the meat powder that was bitter or not. Can you tell me if it is naturally bitter ?

    • I’ve never found Baba’s to be bitter and I am quite sensitive to bitter flavours. Is it possible you burned some garlic/ginger paste or spices when making the other version.

  2. Thank you for this recipe! I bought Baba’s meat curry powder which has a recipe for chicken curry printed on the packet, and the recipe calls for cashews blended with water, rather than coconut milk. I’ve never seen that before, is it common in Malaysia?

    • Nuts blended into curries is quite common. Candle nuts are what you see most in Malaysian cooking.

      I’m working up nerve to try something with cooked ground cashew paste. I am quite allergic to roasted cashews so this is a tough one for me. I’ve had some cashews in the cupboard for three months and I still haven’t pulled the trigger. I’ve used macadamia nuts though. They definitely add a nice richness and mouthfeel.

      Hope you like Babas as much as I do. I think it’s magic fairy dust. So tasty!

    • Sorry – I don’t. There are quite a few out on the internet although I have no idea how close they are.

      There’s a brand called Alagappa in addition to Baba’s if that helps any?

  3. 4 stars
    I’m a Malaysian and lives in uk Hertfordshire .. your recipe is good. I’ve done mine today. Didn’t put too much curry powder just incase it’s too spicy ! I don’t or shall I say can’t take too spicy !!!
    Thank you. X

    • Thank you for saying! I am all about the big flavours so I tend to have a fairly heavy hand when it comes to spice. I’m working on a mee goreng with a bit of a twist right now. Maybe check back in a few weeks if you are interested. I just can’t get enough Malaysian food these days.

  4. Hi I have just made this and it’s delicious but very creamy. I used a tin of coconut milk which is equivalent to 2 cups but looks nothing like yours. Yours is very red whilst mine is a creamy yellow colour. Would make it again though, very tasty

    • I’m glad you liked it. Mine has the oil separating out a bit as it sat for the pictures. I’m guessing you skipped the photography step:-)

4.67 from 12 votes (11 ratings without comment)

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