Chicken Curry with Kaffir Lime Leaves

Chicken Curry with Kaffir Lime Leaves

The Baba-Nyonyas or Peranakans are descendants of the early Chinese immigrants to Malaysia (then known as Malaya), Singapore, and Indonesia. They intermarried with the local population. Many were traders from the province of Fujian, China, attracted by the bustling spice trade. They started arriving as early as the 15th century. As time went by, their population grew. When the British established the Straits Settlement of Malacca, Penang, and Singapore in the early 19th century, the Peranakans in these places became known as the Straits Chinese. Today, Peranakans are considered ethnic Chinese. Most marry within their own community and assimilate back into mainstream Chinese culture.

While the early Chinese intermarried with the Malays, they retain most of their ethnic and religious (ancestral worship) origins. They did however assimilate the local language and customs. They developed their own patois, corrupting the use of Hokkien (Fujianese), Malay, and subsequently English. Their clothing, the Baju Panjang or Baju Kebaya Nyonya was adapted from the Malay Baju Kurung. It is worn with keronsang (brooches), batik sarong (wrap), and kasut manik (beaded slippers). Their food developed into a unique cuisine with influences from neighboring countries.

Nyonya cuisine is a blending of Chinese ingredients with the spices used by the Malay community. The food is aromatic, tangy, spicy, and herbal. Key ingredients include coconut milk, candle nuts, belachan (shrimp paste), cincaluk (pickled baby shrimp), tamarind juice, turmeric, galangal (similar to ginger), asam gelugor (asam keping), lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, pandan leaves, mint leaves, daun kesum (polygonum), and torch ginger. Like all cuisines, there are regional differences. Dishes from the island of Penang and the northern part of Peninsular Malaysia are more spicy and tangy. They draw their inspiration from Thailand. Dishes from Malacca and Singapore show more influence from Indonesia. They are sweeter and rich in coconut milk.

Chicken Curry with Kaffir Lime Leaves

This Chicken Curry with Kaffir Lime Leaves is very much a part of the Nyonya Cuisine. It is rich and creamy, yet spicy and tangy. The addition of kaffir lime leaves gives it a wonderful fragrance. Kaffir lime leaves are highly aromatic and are a great addition to spicy soups and curries. Fresh, tender young leaves can be sliced and used in salads. I have seen one or two Asian grocery stores here in the US carry the fresh leaves but they are not a regular item on the shelves. Fortunately, they are also sold dried, and this is really convenient. The tangy taste of the curry comes from asam gelugor which are slices of dried fruit of the asam gelugor tree indigenous to Malaysia. I have not seen them being sold here but they can be substituted with lime juice.

Chicken Curry with Kaffir Lime Leaves

Chicken Curry with Kaffir Lime Leaves
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 4 to 6 servings
  • 20 oz boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 small Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 5 kaffir lime leaves
  • ½ cup coconut cream **
  • ½ cup water **
  • 2 tbsp lime juice or 2 pieces assam gelugor
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • salt to taste
Spice Paste
  • 5 fresh red chilies, cut into small pieces
  • 6 shallots or 1 medium sized onion, peeled, and cut into small pieces
  • 1 stalk lemon grass, sliced bottom third into rings
  • 1½ in galangal or ginger root
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled, and halved
  • ½ tsp tumeric powder
  1. Grind spice paste ingredients in a blender or food processor with 2 tablespoons of water.
  2. Heat oil in a medium sized pot and stir fry ground spice paste until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add chicken and stir till chicken turns opaque, about 3 minutes.
  3. Pour in coconut cream and water**. Add kaffir lime leaves and assam gelugor, if using. When it comes to a boil, season with salt. Reduce heat and let simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Add cubed potatoes and continue to cook for another 15 minutes, until potatoes are tender, and gravy has thicken.
  5. If you did not use assam gelugor, stir in lime juice now. Turn off heat and allow curry to sit for 15 minutes before serving.
**Instead of ½ cup coconut cream and ½ cup water, you can simply use 1 cup coconut milk.

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Chicken Curry with Kaffir Lime Leaves

Nyonya ware is porcelain found among the Straits Chinese of Penang, Malacca, and Singapore. It has distinctive colors of green, pink, and yellow. Kitchen Ching are the common household pottery, often decorated in blue and white. The pictures above show the curry in a Kitchen Ching bowl.

Chicken Curry with Kaffir Lime Leaves
NOTE: This post was updated on October 30th, 2011 with new write-up and pictures. No changes were made to the recipe.

Enjoy…..and have a wonderful day! 😎

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  1. denise @ quickies on the dinner table says

    Biren, this is my husband's all time favourite dish! Only he calls it "Ayam Kalio" and insists that I cook it with bird's eye chili 😀

  2. 5 Star Foodie says

    Scrumptious curry! I saw the kaffir lime leaves once in my grocery store, I hope I can find them again sometime.

  3. DongXing says

    I am entertaining some friends this Sunday and am planning to cook a curry chicken. This recipe is perfect as I do have a bag of dried kafir lime leaves in the cupboard begging to be used. I might add a couple of bird's eye chilli as my husband likes a good kick in curry. Thanks for sharing this recipe.

  4. Biren says

    denise@quickies on the dinner table – I like this curry too. I try to make my curries mild so that my boys can have them. The younger has a mild palate.

    5 Star Foodie – Those kaffir lime leaves are hard to come by here. Grab them when you do see them as they can be dried.

    Angie's Recipes – Keep looking… may just come across them. They are very aromatic and worth keeping in the pantry.

    DongXing – I hope your friends enjoy the curry.

    Anncoo – One of my favorites too! I bought the pot a long, long time ago. I don't know if you can even find them now….very rustic!

  5. Table Talk says

    Craving this now! I have always had to buy kaffir lime leaves online….kind of ingredient deprived even in our best gourmet market ;/
    Thanks for sharing this dish!

  6. Biren says

    Aruna – Thanks for visiting! I hope you will visit again.

    Shahana – Thanks so much for visiting and for your kind comments. Please visit again.

    Table Talk – You are most welcomed! I like this dish too. Yes, kaffir lime leaves are so hard to come by here in the US which is a pity. It is so aromatic and is a wonderful addition even to salads.

  7. Cinnamon-Girl says

    This looks so rich and delicious with the kaffir lime and coconut cream! I have a hard time finding kaffir leaves too. I didn't know you could buy dried ones.

  8. DongXing says

    Just wanted to tell you that the curry was the star of our lunch party on Sunday Feb 28. I had trippled your recipe, substituted the lime juice with 2 slices of assam gelugor and used frozen kafir lime leaves instead of the dried ones, and everything worked out fantastic. My husband is my number one critic and this dish passed his standards with flying colours. He liked it very much and so did all our guests. Nothing was left of the curry. Thank you for sharing this recipe. You can rest assured that this recipe will be made again in the very near future. Keep the recipes coming!!

  9. Biren says

    Cinnamon Girl – Thanks! Yes, for some reason it is really difficult to find kaffir lime leaves here, even the dried ones. I have seen it though just very reasonly. These were mailed in by a very good friend :)

    DongXing – You are most welcomed! So glad you had great success with the recipe. The assam gelugor is the real thing and I wish I have some of those :)

  10. says

    Biren – I was surprised to see kaffir lime leaves there. So great that you can find the dried ones. Our beloved curries won’t be the same without it. Btw, was there your own collection of Nyonya ware? They are such precious these days. Great recipe!

    • Biren says

      I have seen the fresh ones in the Asian markets in Minneapolis but it is more convenient for me to just get the dried ones. This curry will not be the same without them. Yes, this is my very small collection of Nyonya ware. I wish I had more pieces. Thank you!

  11. says

    hello. lovely recipe :) I assume that we can use fresh kaffir lime leaves and assam paste for the recipe? any modifications required?

    I love your nyonya porcelain btw. Could you shed some light on where I could get some pieces like yours?

    Thank you very much!


    • Biren says

      Hi Alan, thanks for visiting! yes, you can most definitely use fresh kaffir lime leaves. In fact, I would use the fresh leaves if I had them. As for the asam paste, you would ix it with some water and add the juice to the curry. I do not have the specific measurement and you will have to go by taste or feel. It will taste different though as asam gelugor or asam keping has a brighter taste. That is why I choose to use lime juice instead if I do not have asam gelugor.

      Old nyonya ware is hard to come by these days. You may still find some in the old parts of Melaka like Jonker Street or even Penang but I understand that they cost a lot. However, you can get newly made ones but they are not as fine as the old ones.

  12. Cristhy says

    Hi Biren,

    This recipe looks fabulous! I can’t wait to try it! However, I can’t seem to find Turmeric Powder. Is there a good substitute I can use?

    Thank you!

    • Biren says

      I am not sure if there is a substitute for turmeric. You can try omitting it but the taste and color of the dish will be different. If you can find an Asian or Indian grocery store, you should be able to get ground turmeric from them.

  13. Irene says

    Hi Biren,

    Thanks for posting your chicken curry recipe. I’ve searching online awhile now for a easy to make curry recipe, especially to introduce to my toddler. Your recipe is something I can adjust the heat/spicy. I’ll try it this week. I just want to ask you about the amount of galangal in the curry as it wasn’t clear in the recipe. Thank you!

    • Biren says

      You are welcome, Irene. Yes, you can definitely adjust the heat on this one. Please use about 1 1/2-inch knob of galangal. :)

  14. says

    Yum!!! This is exactly what we used to have in Singapore! Love love love it! wonder if i will be able to recreate this! Will definitely give it a try…

  15. Kathy says

    I just got back from a business trip to Malaysia a few days ago and I fell in love with the aroma of the Kaffir Lime in several of the dishes I tried (especially a salad dressing – that I’m hoping to convince the restaurant to share with me!). I was happy to find the dried leaves, as well as a small tin of curry seasoning, at a grocery store while there….and I’m glad to know that I can purchase these online!

    So, I found this chicken curry recipe and decided to try it last night. I initially used less of the spice paste as I was worried my kids wouldn’t like it, but they actually asked me to add more! Their only complaint was that the potatoes gave the dish a rather “sandy” taste. Is there any way to prepare/cook the potatoes so this doesn’t happen?

    Other than that, this recipe was a success…and the aroma wafting through the kitchen took me right back to the streets of Penang :)

    • Linda says

      Glad to hear you enjoyed the food in Penang. :) Fresh kaffir lime leaves can be purchased here in the States at some Asian grocery stores but the dried ones will work just fine. I am not sure what you mean with the potatoes being sandy unless you used russet potatoes. Always use waxy potatoes in chicken curry. I like to use red potatoes as Yukon Gold can be a little glassy at times. You can also omit the potatoes altogether. Glad to hear you enjoyed the dish.


  1. […] Pineapple Curry or Gulai Nenas is often made with shrimps but variations with fish and salted fish do exist. Although the anglicized term for gulai is also curry, it is distinctly different from curry in that the spice mix for gulai normally consists of fresh chilies, turmeric, lemongrass, belachan (shrimp paste), and tamarind. In many cases, gulai tends to be hot, spicy, tangy, and not creamy like curries. It is definitely a Southeast Asian concoction. The tangy taste in Gulai Nenas comes from the pineapples. The coconut milk helps mellow out the sharp taste, making it irresistible. Be sure to have lots of steamed white rice available as this dish really whets one’s appetite. Do check out my other gulai recipe, Chicken Curry with Kaffir Lime Leaves. […]

  2. […] sambal (chili paste). Or the deeper rhythmic sound of the mill stone grinding the spices to make Nyonya Curry. There was also the persistent scratching from the coconut scrapper to make santan (coconut milk). […]

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