Nyonya Chicken Curry (Ayam Kalio)

By Lee Jackson ↣ Published on: June 2, 2021

Last Updated: November 15th, 20235 Comments on Nyonya Chicken Curry (Ayam Kalio)

Nyonya Chicken Curry (Ayam Kalio) hails from Padang, Malaysia – a unique blend of Malay and Chinese cuisines. Rich, fragrant, colourful and not to mention absolutely intoxicating.


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 of my favourite dishes like Curry Laksa, Roti Canai, Chicken Kapitan, Beef Curry and the delightful Kari Ayam.

But there was another curry that was most special - Ayam Kalio, a Nyonyan chicken curry. It is the dish of dreams - I'd eat it every day if I could - juicy, tender chicken bathes in an intensely colourful and fragrant coconut sauce infused with lemongrass, turmeric, shrimp paste and more. It's the essence of Malaysian food.

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 Kalio is a typical curry and, in my opinion, one of the most prized. It also features on my Best Malaysian Curry Recipes - a selection of the most amazing, flavourful curries IN THE WORLD!

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

Why it works

Fragrance and flavour - Honestly, Malaysian curries for me, are the best in the World. Better than Indian, tastier than Thai, they offer so much depth of flavour and fragrance that it's almost overwhelming. Ayam Kalio is so intensely satisfying without being spicy.

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.

  • Turmeric (fresh or powdered) - brings the unique yellow hue associated with Ayam Kalio.
  • Lemongrass - Let's start the flavour and fragrance ball rolling with lemongrass. Such an intoxicating ingredient!
  • Candlenuts - Candlenuts are ground and act as a thickener to for the kari (sauce) (you can also use macadamia nuts). Word of warning if eaten raw, candlenuts can be toxic, just so you know!
  • Ginger - More flavour! You can also substitute for fresh galangal too.
  • Garlic - Every Malaysian curry needs a backbone, and garlic does the job so well.
  • Chilli powder - Ayam Kalio isn't a particularly spicy curry, but a little spice never hurt. You can dial it up or down or leave it out if you like.
  • Onion - The base of the curry is onion, you can also substitute with shallots.
  • Shrimp Paste (Belacan) - Loved and loathed in equal measure, shrimp paste brings a magic hit of umami.
Chicken cooked in coconut milk with Malaysian aromatics to make Nyonya Chicken Curry (Ayam Kleo)

Step by Step

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.
Curry paste made from Malaysian aromatic spices and ingredients
Chicken cooked in coconut milk with Malaysian aromatics to make Nyonya Chicken Curry (Ayam Kalio)
Chicken cooked in coconut milk with Malaysian aromatics to make Nyonya Chicken Curry (Ayam Kalio)

Pro Tips to make your life easier

  • 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.

Serving and storing suggestions

I like to serve my Nyonya Chicken Curry with simple Jasmine rice or Malaysian roti bread (or both). Mopping up the sauce with buttery roti bread is one of life's finest pleasures!


  • Fridge - keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week. I swear, as every day goes by, this curry just gets tastier and tastier.
  • Freezer - Nyonya Chicken Curry is a good candidate for freezing. Keep in single portions in airtight containers (hold on to your take out containers) for 3+ months. Either defrost and reheat or cook from frozen, in the microwave until piping hot. Be sure to stir once or twice during cooking. Add a little water if the kari sauce dries out too much.
Chicken cooked in coconut milk with Malaysian aromatics to make Nyonya Chicken Curry (Ayam Kleo)

Ready to get cooking?

I can't sing the praises of Nyonyan cuisine too loudly! And especially this amazing Ayam Kalio, once of the tastiest Nyonya Chicken Curry recipes. I'd eat this every day given the chance and the mere knowledge that I have a batch in my freezer at any given time is enough to distract me from any activity until it's gone. I'm sure you'll love this curry as much as I do. Hope you enjoy!

Any Questions? (FAQ)

Have a question about Nyonya Cuisine or Nyonya Chicken Curry? Let me know in the comments.

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.

What is Nyonya Curry Paste?

Nyonya cuisine is a blend of Malay and Chinese cuisine. A typical nyonya curry paste contains South East Asian aromatics like lemongrass, turmeric, ginger or galangal, belacan (shrimp paste), onions or shallots, garlic and more.

It's either blended in a food processor or by hand using a traditional pestle & mortar. It's used as a base to many kari/curry sauces, typically cooked with coconut milk or cream.

A Malaysian chicken curry - Kari Ayam

The Best Malaysian Curry Recipes in the Cook Eat World.

The wonders of Malaysian Curries are here for the taking. Here are my Best Malaysian Curry Recipes in the Cook Eat World.


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

Nyonya Chicken Curry (Ayam Kalio)

Rate this recipe

3.43 from 7 votes
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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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