Pearly Kee’s Curry Kapitan – A Penang heritage curry



This time, last year, we were sitting in Toh Soon Coffeeshop and sipping a good kopi-o (black coffee in local lingo) with a kaya-butter charcoal toast and the best eggs we’ve ever had. Also, this time last year, our to-do list was one which would have been the envy of  any local foodie.

If it isn’t too obvious, we have Penang withdrawal symptoms. And as I’m typing this, I’ve just drooled over the beautiful pictures of a friend who has just returned from lovely Penang.

Our only salvation- make some Penang food!

On one of our trips, we tried to take up a cooking class by the very famous Pearly Kee but we weren’t successful. So, we did the next best thing and bought her cookbook, which was just released in 2013. In it, she mentions that this dish, Curry Kapitan, was one which is unique to Penang. Dutch and Portuguese traders used to called the Chinese chiefs in Penang ‘Kapitan’ (captain?) and so, this local curry was named ‘Kapitan Curry’. It is a Peranakan (Straits-born Chinese) dish but incorporates the use of traditional Malay herbs such as lemongrass and galangal. It is an easy dish to prepare and an easier dish to eat.Though the curry paste looks potent, it is completely subdued by the creamy coconut cream and milk and the added lime gives a little tangy taste that compliments the otherwise very rich coconut-based curry. There’s not a lot of gravy in this dish which makes it perfect as a dipping ‘sauce’ for a good crusty loaf that sucks up all gravy.

There are so many varieties of curries in South and South-east Asia that it’s impossible to pick a favourite. Generally, Indian curries use a lot of ground dry spices and many South-East Asian curries (Malaysian, Indonesian, Burmese and Thai) use fresh herbs. Also, all curries are perfect comfort food; there’s something about the fusion of spices/herbs and meat slow-cooked over a low-flame that is soul gratifying.My favourites are Beef Rendang and the South Indian Fish Curry. Curry Kapitan may quickly become a favourite.

When I’m chopping and pounding fresh herbs for South-East Asian curries, I’m always in wonderment when the waft of the lemongrass and galangal hits me. Lemongrass has such a beautiful, fresh citrus smell that the chore of chopping and pounding becomes an almost ethereal experience for me. I’m constantly awed by how amazing Mother Nature is and being in the kitchen allows me to appreciate her astounding creations. I’ll never forget the first time I slit open a vanilla pod and when I tasted uni. So to express my fascination with the local ingredients which were used in this curry, I took a few snaps. Enjoy! (You can click on the photos for a better view)

And don’t forget to make the curry. You’ll not regret it.


Fresh Red Chillies // Pearly Kee's Curry Kapitan // /

Ground Curry Paste // Pearly Kee's Curry Kapitan // /

Pearly Kee's Curry Kapitan

Credit: Pearly’s Penang: A Nonya Inheritance, Pearly Kee, Clarity Publishing

Curry Paste

  • 30g lemongrass (serai) , finely sliced
  • 45g fresh red chillies, coarsely chopped
  • 15g fresh turmeric (kunyit), coarsely chopped
  • 35g galangal (lengkuas), coarsely chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • 3 dried chillies, soaked in hot water, drained, coarsely chopped
  • 3 candle nuts (buah keras), coarsely chopped

Other Ingredients

  • 90ml coconut cream
  • 300 ml water
  • 4-6 tbsp cooking oil
  • 600g chicken
  • 70g onions, coarsely diced
  • 1/2 tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp fresh lime juice


1. Grind the curry paste ingredients. Add in water, about a third of the height of the paste.

2. In a bowl, mix 20 ml of coconut cream with 300 ml of water to make a light coconut milk.    Set aside the remaining coconut cream.

3. In a wok, heat the vegetable oil and fry the curry paste. Add more oil if the paste does not    bubble. First, big bubbles will start to appear as the moisture evaporates. Keep stirring to prevent the paste from burning and sticking.

4. When the bubbles become smaller, add chicken pieces. Reduce to medium low heat and stir to coat the chicken with curry paste. Keep stirring constantly to avoid burning the chicken.

5. As the chicken pieces turn white and firm, add the light coconut.Turn heat up to medium high and bring to boil for about 5 minutes.

6. Reduce heat to medium low, and simmer chicken until it’s tender.

7. Once the gravy is reduced by half, add in onions,salt,sugar,lime juice and remaining 70ml     of coconut cream.

8. Check for seasoning and serve with plain rice or a crusty country loaf.

Note: Do not cover the pot while gravy is simmering and reducing. Also, if you’re leaving the curry in the pot for a while, do not cover it as the heat will cause the coconut cream to spoil.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. moxtherog says:

    Vasun, with you on this one!! Great comfort food and a marvelous entry recipe into Pearly’s treasure trove of nyonya cooking. Have to make a repeat visit to that neck of the woods some day… Nice blog – keep cooking and blogging! Mike

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Michelle says:

    Your ingredients look so beautiful, it’s almost a shame to use them! That’s funny about the name. There’s an old Southern U.S. dish called “Country Captain.” It’s really kind of gross. A totally watered down/dumbed down Indian curry with a tomato sauce and chicken—a travesty compared to what you have here. I wonder if there’s some connection with the name, though.


    1. Vasun says:

      Thank u, Michelle! There are far too many kinda gross curries out there. Ive tasted a few in Vietnam & within India itself! Im glad you’re able to pinpoint them. Such a shame really as curries that are done right are always so delicious. Btw, did u manage to get that India cookbook by Pushpesh Pant?


      1. Michelle says:

        I ordered it yesterday!


      2. Vasun says:

        Good for you! Cant wait for your posts on some Indian dishes from it


    1. Vasun says:

      Hi Jhuls! Thank for the lovely feature & your kind words:) we just got so I couldn’t respond earlier. Lovely blog you have!


  3. Reblogged this on littleborneogirl and commented:
    Your photographs are really captivating. I simply have to reblog this. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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