Nyonya Chicken Curry (Ayam Kleo)

Cook Eat WorldAsianNyonya Chicken Curry (Ayam Kleo)
By Published On: June 2nd, 2021

Nyonya Chicken Curry hails from Malaysia – a unique blend of Malay and Chinese cuisines. Rich, fragrant and colourful and not to mention absolutely intoxicating. Learn how the magic of Nyonyan cuisine comes together in Ayam Kleo.

Chicken cooked in coconut milk with Malaysian aromatics to make Nyonya Chicken Curry (Ayam Kleo)

This Nyonya Chicken Curry - Ayam Kleo was first introduced to me at my favourite Malaysian restaurant in Sydney, Australia. Their menu is legendary, with so many amazing dishes like Laksa, Roti Canai, Chicken Kapitan, Beef Curry and the delightful Kari Ayam. But it was another Kari that featured that was the most special - a vibrant orange curry named Ayam Kleo. It would be the dish of dreams - I'd eat it every day if I could - juicy, tender chicken sits in an intensely colourful and fragrant coconut sauce infused with lemongrass, turmeric, shrimp paste and more...

What is Nyonya Cuisine?

Nyonya, also known as Peranakan cuisine was born from the early Chinese migrants to Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Over time the meshing of cooking techniques and flavours grew into what we call today Nonya or Nyonya cuisine. The resulting flavours are tangy, sweet, spicy and herbal. A huge variety of fragrant herbs, roots and spices go into a complex balance of sweetness, sourness, spice and salt. Nyonyan food has an intoxicating variety of sweet and savoury dishes. Ayam Kleo is a typical Nyonyan curry and, in my opinion, one of the most prized of all South East Asian Curries. It also features on my Best Malaysian Curry Recipes - a selection of the most amazing, flavourful curries IN THE WORLD! I implore you to check it out!

Stuff you'll need

To create the magically flavourful and colourful sauce yourself, you'll need a few special ingredients to make the curry paste.

Curry paste made from Malaysian aromatic spices and ingredients

A step by step guide

Making Nyonya Chicken Curry at home is not a difficult task - see for yourself.

  1. Make the Kari paste by blending together all the aromatics (all the ingredients are in the recipe below).
  2. Marinade the chicken in a little of the curry paste for 30 mins to an hour
  3. Fry the chicken in a little oil
  4. Add the remaining kari paste and bring to a simmer
  5. Add coconut milk and water and simmer for 30 minutes.

Tips, tricks & substitutes

  • You can make the paste in advance and refrigerate or freeze.
  • You can add vegetables like potatoes, eggplant or beans to the sauce for some greenery.
  • This curry freezes perfectly - meal-prep a few single portions for an instant hit of flavour when the mood takes you.
  • Instead of rice, try serving Ayam Kleo with flaky, buttery parata breads (Roti) - you can find those in any Asian supermarket in the frozen aisle.
Chicken cooked in coconut milk with Malaysian aromatics to make Nyonya Chicken Curry (Ayam Kleo)

Your questions answered

What are candlenuts?

Candlenuts are tree nuts from South East Asia. They are actually lightly toxic and therefore not eaten raw. When cooked, they are perfectly safe! They're used in Nyonyan recipes to help thicken sauces.

Is Nyonya Chicken Curry Spicy?

Not really. My recipe uses mild chilli powder, so the overall dish is spiced but not spicy - think more fragrant than hot. If you're averse to chilli heat, leave out the chilli powder or replace it with paprika. If you are up for a challenge add spicier chilli powder or cayenne pepper.

More delicious South East Asian Curry Recipes

How to make Nyonya Chicken Curry (Ayam Kleo)



Chicken cooked in coconut milk with Malaysian aromatics to make Nyonya Chicken Curry (Ayam Kleo)

Ayam Kleo (Nyonyan Chicken Curry)

Rate this recipe

3.17 from 6 votes
Print Recipe Pin Recipe
Recipe by Lee
Course Main Course
Cuisine Malaysian
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time50 minutes
Marination (optional)1 hour
Total Time2 hours
Servings (adjustable) 6
Calories (per serving) | 588

Video Recipe


For the Paste

  • 1 onion (chopped)
  • 1 lemongrass stalk (white part only, sliced)
  • 6 candlenuts (or macadamia nuts)
  • 7 slices fresh ginger
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp mild chilli powder
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp belacan Malaysian shrimp paste (or Thai shrimp paste)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt


  • 1/4 cup peanut oil (or vegetable)
  • 2.2 lb (1kg) skinless & boneless chicken thighs (cut into large chunks)
  • 1 can coconut milk (13.5oz/400ml)


  • In a pestle and mortar, a food processor or a stick blender, grind together all the paste ingredients until smooth.
  • Take 2 tablespoons of the paste and stir into the chicken. Leave covered for 1/2 to 1 hour to marinade (this is optional)
  • Heat the oil in a wok until hot - add the chicken pieces and let them brown for 5 minutes.
    Add the remaining curry paste and the coconut milk along with about 1 1/2 cups of water.
    Let this come to a simmer then reduce the heat to low. Simmer gently, uncovered for 30 minutes to reduce the sauce until thick and creamy.
  • Serve with plenty of fluffy Jasmine rice or some crunchy, flaky roti breads.


Calories: 588kcal (29%) | Carbohydrates: 7.9g (3%) | Protein: 32.1g (64%) | Fat: 47.9g (74%) | Saturated Fat: 22.6g (141%) | Cholesterol: 144mg (48%) | Sodium: 843mg (37%) | Potassium: 236mg (7%) | Fiber: 2.7g (11%) | Sugar: 3.2g (4%)
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Chicken cooked in coconut milk with Malaysian aromatics to make Nyonya Chicken Curry (Ayam Kleo)

Did you make this?

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