“What’s Cooking” – Kari Kay and Asam Heh


The weather is still cold and wet outside. It is not getting any better. We will be wet for few more days and possibly weeks. It is hard to feel uplifted in this sort of weather. So to cheer “me-self” (a local Tassie lingual), I thought what better way than to cook a 15-minute “Kari Kay” (in Hokkien, which means Curry Chicken). The hot curry should warm me-self up in this cold wet weather. The beauty is that it is simple to cook and delicious to eat. 

Kari Kay is the first Malaysian dish I learnt to cook in the US. I was studying there at that time, shared a 2-bedroom apartment with a fellow Malaysian student. I went to the United States of America in 1980 to study at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. There I saw Bill Clinton (in person), who was the Governor of Arkansas at that time. He was at the university laying the first foundation stone for a new Engineering Building. Damn! He was a very charming and charismatic man.  

You don’t have to be a cook to make my student’s version of Kari Kay. The trick is getting the right curry powder to make this authentic looking Penang-style curry chicken. The brand is “AYAM”. It is the only curry powder that I will use to make a quick Penang style curry chicken. It is available in most Asian supermarket. If you live in Hobart, you can find it in Wing & Co, Sandy Bay. 



500 gm chicken thigh (cut into small bite pieces)

Cherry tomatoes (6-8)

1 spanish onion (sliced)

250 gm Carnation Milk

3-4 tablespoon AYAM brand curry powder

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon chilli powder

salt and sugar


1. Marinade chicken with turmeric powder and a sprinkle of salt (set aside)

2. Heat some cooking oil in a wok (medium heat)

3. Toss in some sliced onion, stir fry for a minute. Add curry and chilli powder. Fry until fragrant (if drying up, add a bit of water)

4. Toss in chicken. Fry chicken until it is nicely glazed in curry paste. Be careful not to over fry chicken or let the paste dried up. Add a can of carnation milk and let chicken simmer gently until cook. Add tomatoes. Add salt and sugar to taste.

To accompany my Kari Kay, I cooked a second dish. “Asam Heh” (in Hokkien, which means Tamarind Prawn) is traditional to Penang’s Straits Chinese home cooking. This is a recipe from my mum. Back home in Penang, the prawn is smaller but very fresh from the wet market, a 5-minute walking distance from mum’s place. In Tasmania, we get fresh prawn (mostly snapped frozen) from mainland (either Queensland or WA). 



500 gm Fresh Prawns

1 big pinch of tamarind pulp

1/2 tablespoon dark soy sauce

Salt and sugar to taste


1. Devein the prawns

2. Soak tamarind pulp in 1/2 cup of water. Extract tamarind juice and mix with dark soy sauce, a bit of salt and sugar to taste

3. Marinade prawns in tamarind juice. Refrigerate overnight.

4. Heat some oil in a wok (high heat). Toss in prawns and quick stir fry until prawns are cooked. Remove from wok.

This dish has a beautiful seafood flavour (from the prawn), sour from the tamarind juice (the sour the better!) and salty. We eat this dish with our hands, so our fingers are covered with tamarind and prawn flavours. Yum – they are finger licking good!

“Makan Lah”

33 responses to ““What’s Cooking” – Kari Kay and Asam Heh

  1. Sounds great Victor, time to open Melaka Mk 2 me thinks!

    • Thanks, Steve. Tempting, but not sure I can do it again. When you have a bit more time on a Sunday and weather is better, I will re-create Melaka for you and your family at home.

  2. Victor – if I’m not on the guest list when you cook for the Cumper crew, consider yourself out of my will!

    • LOL! Rita. You are on. A-list of course. Make sure I am still in your will! Tee Hee. We need to wait for a nicer weather.

  3. Just had to share my recipe for Kung Pao Chicken – made it last night and it’s totally sedap!!! PJ went back for seconds AND thirds hehe


    750g skinless chicken breast and/or thigh filets
    15 or so dried red chillies (the bigger, the less hotter)
    1 large onion (brown/red – your choice)
    4-5 tbsp cashew nuts
    3-4 cloves garlic – minced
    4 thin slices ginger – shredded
    1 egg white – lightly beaten
    3 tbsp cornstarch
    1 cup peanut or vegetable oil


    1 tsp salt
    1 tsp Shaoxing cooking wine (dry sherry is a good substitute)

    Seasoning Sauce (mix together and reserve in a bowl):

    1 tsp Shaoxing cooking wine
    1½ tbsp vinegar
    2 tbsp soy sauce
    3 tbsp sugar
    2 tbsp water


    Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and marinate with the above marinade

    Cut dried chillies into 2cm lengths, shake off/out as much seeds as possible*, then wash and soak them for 30 minutes or till soft. Drain

    Cut the onion cross-sectionally into 8 sections (6 if onion is small). Loosen the sections roughly


    Put the cup of oil into wok and place the cashew nuts in the cold oil. Turn the heat on. Keep turning the nuts as the oil gets hotter and to ensure even browning. Scoop up when they turn golden brown and put aside

    Mix the chicken pieces with the lightly beaten egg white. Add in the cornstarch and mix thoroughly. Heat up the wok and when the oil is ready, put all the chicken in. Spread the chicken pieces out and fry each side for 2 or 3 minutes until golden brown. Dish out and drain excess oil

    Heat up wok again and put in 1 tbsp of oil (may use the excess oil from frying the chicken) – add the garlic and ginger to fry for a few seconds. Then add the softened dried chillies* and stir-fry for a minute or two

    Now add in the onion pieces and continue to stir-fry for a short while

    Now add in the seasoning sauce, chicken pieces and cashew nuts and mix until the sauce thoroughly coats the food

    Turn off heat as soon as it is well mixed. There should not be a lot of sauce – just a little bit – enough for the food to be coated

    “Makan lah!”

    *Hints with working with dried chillies: if you have hayfever, I suggest you wear a mask when getting rid of the seeds – the chilli “dust” will certainly get up your nose. Also when frying the chillies in the hot wok, keep your mask on – I’m still coughing from the chilli “smoke” lol

    • Wow, Sydney Queen, Sydney Queen – thanks for your Kung Pao recipe contribution. You can write your own cookbook with this recipe. If you have a photo, send to my email address and I will post in the Recipe Page.

      It sounds delicious, tangy and spicy. But knowing PJ, it is probably 5/10 on spicyness, but then 15 dried chillies sounds a lot to me.

  4. Sydney Queen..anything with cashews…sigh and double yum….!

    Either cashews or pistacios. Is this a lost art, cooking with seeds and nuts (and don’t you dare laugh..)…you know what I mean.

  5. “Beh yo kin ah” My pleasure … I think even with 20 dried chillies, if the seeds are properly removed, there will be just a “bite” to the food/sauce … I was really worried that PJ wouldn’t be able to eat it (and then I’d have to go to the local chinese takeaway and bring back a portion of “chicken and cashew nuts” – but he was fine 🙂

    Min: No it’s not a lost art at all … cooking with peanuts is VERY Malaysian – take the national dish of satay 😛 … if you’re looking for a good Malaysian recipe website (other than this “fusion” one of course hehe) – have a look at http://kuali.com

  6. Hello Sydney Q…Here is one which daughter and her friend from NZ cooked for me for a party…

    32 scallops (roe removed).


    4 cloves garlic
    1/2 fresh ginger grated
    2 red chillis finely chopped (seeded or not according to taste)
    3 shallots finely sliced
    1tsp fish sauce
    2tblspns brown sugar
    1/2 cup chicken stock
    chopped corriander for garnish (as always)…

    Heat cooking oil in wok. Stir fry scallops in batches. Remove to warming plate. Stir fry garlic, ginger, chillis and shallots for 2 minutes. Stir in rest of ingredients and bring to the boil.

    Serve in scallop shells sprinkled with a little fresh corriander or also on a large platter with ye olde cocktail forks.

  7. Sydney Q..I forgot to thank you for the link..and so, thank you. Will have a good peruse tomorrow (just back from Cairns).

  8. Wow, this is a good site.

  9. Migs..about time that you turned up 😉

    Yes Victor and thank you..it went off very well and the things that I made, your pork dumplings and Hexx’s spinach triangle recipes were most definite favorites. I ended up making the dipping sauce for the dumplings and taking it up to Cairns in a drink sipper bottle. Thank goodness that it was only a domestic flight or else I might have been pulled aside for trying to transport unknown substances!

    Will email a couple of pics…

    • Hey Min – thanks! OMG, it has to be a small bottle of under 100ml. It could pass as a face moisturiser, or health tonic drink for air sickness! 🙂

  10. Was just thinking..the reason that I have problems cooking things quickly at high temperatures is traditional, that is being of anglo origin.

    Surely these traditions have something to do with available fuel..for example, in tropical climates light timber (eg cane) or often a lack of fuel it being a scarce resource = cooking quickly at high temperature whereas European cooking which often means cooking slowly at a low temperature originated because of plentiful fuel or slow burning fuel such as coal.

    Just thinking…

    • Well, Min..today’s technology some cooks/chefs swear by Induction cooking as the preferred method, less “what do you call it” gas emission and cook better than gas. I think it is rubbish. We installed Induction stove and after 1.5 yr I am still not entirely convinced. Even flew to Melbourne and bought a $480 new induction SS wok. That is supposed to be the best in the market for induction wok cooking. Sad to say, I still prefer my $150 cast iron made for induction. But nothing beat my portable LPG gas and wok burner, and a well seasoned cast iron wok. Waiting for summer so I can cook outside with gas.

  11. I know what you mean Victor. My mother who is 85yrs old has the best oven. It’s gas, instantaneous heat. It must be over 50yrs old as it is before the days of glass front stoves and I can only vaguely remember the stove that mum had before this. You have to strike a match to light it.

    Must relate about last night’s dinner. Jeff and I had spent most of the day out in the garden and I hadn’t been thinking much about what to cook. Then I realized that I still had the Ayam Curry Sauce (the one in a small can). Jeff had bought this for me when he had gone over at the Chinese deli in Tweed Heads. I said to him..Victor says Ayam is the brand and he came back with the curry sauce and a can of Ayam coconut cream.

    And so..1 chopped brown onion, steak (porterhouse) cut finely on the diagonal. 2 tablespoons of Ayam Curry Sauce (which is hot enough for Jeff and I). I added a squeeze of lime juice and a splash of Ayam fish sauce plus coconut cream. And sprinkled with a few pistacios and served with jasmine rice.

    It was delicious and so easy!

    • Min – the other good Malaysian curry paste is “Babas” brand.

    • Min – I have added a new blogroll. An excellent foodblog on Nyonya cooking and a page link to Rasa Malaysia. These two foodblogs are excellent, well written, feature Malaysian food, recipe, ingredients and culture.

  12. Very Ye Olde English recipe..and why do the english insist on calling things ‘devilled’ when all it is is worcestershire and mustard?

    Here goes..Devilled Wine Chops…

    750g lamb chops
    2 sticks celery
    1 onion
    2 tspns mustard (I always use whole grain)
    1 tablespoon brown sugar
    1 clove garlic
    1 tablespoon worcestershire
    1 tablespoon lemon juice
    2 tablespoons sherry
    1 can of ye olde tomato soup

    Cook chops in a casserole dish for 30 mins. Add all other ingredients and cook for a further 45mins. Sprinkle 15 mins prior to done with a little finely chopped celery.

    Victor..give it a try….

  13. I think that this is one of the best recipes that I have come across..feeeed the man meat and all that.

    Kingsley’s Surf N’Turf…


    Tarragon vinegar is doesn’t exist at all around here, nor is fresh tarragon and so what I do is morning..2 tablespoons white wine vinegar and 1 tablespoon of dried tarragon. This makes a passable tarragon vinegar.

    And the bearnaise isn’t at all difficult. I just use a pot and a metal bowl as a make-do double boiler.

    • Sounds delicious, Min. Rich and creamy. I like your idea of using a pot and metal bowl. Fresh tarragon quite easy to grow. I have a couple on the ground.

  14. I haven’t been able to find any tarragon around here at all and a Google search revealed the only grower was Exeter Tas..so maybe these are a cool climate herb? Perhaps I’ll have to swap some of my fresh tropical herbs for some of your tarragon 🙂 What do you have trouble growing down in Tas??

  15. No updates? What’s happened?

  16. I stand corrected re tarragon..daughter in Byron Bay has a couple of thriving plants. I obviously just need to look further afield.

    • Good luck, Min. Let me know if you are successful in growing some of your own tarragon. Yesterday, I was doing a bit of TLC in the garden. In our tiny car park area that I try to clear and re-grow a bit of grass. Then I stumbled on a small seedling. It has a tiny vibrant yellow flower with white petals. Turns out to be camomile seedling! About 10 metre away from that spot is where I planted some camomile plants in a pot. Interesting that some pollens could have germinated in a messy part covered gravel/grass as an ideal spot for a camomile seedling.

  17. Oooooh – I just remembered from my Uni days – Mum used to send me “Alagappa” curry powders in “Care Packages” and they are as good as “Ayam” brand.

    Here’s what the packaging looks like … http://www.airmanaircrew.com/htm/good_gen/good_food_ideas/alagappa_beef_curry.htm

    • Oh, yes. I know this brand. It is good. But, the best is still if you are in Penang, is to get them freshly mixed at a wet market.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s