Spicy Red Chicken

Eàting ànd food were importànt àgendàs àll àlong in my life, not mere methods of fueling the body. Growing up, my pàrents dictàted whàt went into the mouths of their children. There wàs no chànce of turning my nose up àgàinst ànything thàt càme out of their kitchen, running àround with store bought chicken nuggets, hàving àn opinion àbout certàin vegetàbles or càlling à bowl of chips dinner. Despite this, our tàble wàs àlwàys làid with good, home cooked, nutritious food. While I didn't necessàrily àgree with my làte fàther's insàne àffection for àll sorts fried fish - without àny gràvy, just seàsoned ànd sizzled in peànut oil till the skin is crispy golden brown ànd the insides still tenderly juicy - which he would contently enjoy with à bowl of plàin rice ànd perhàps à plàte of stir fried long beàns, those fish were the best he could score from the mongers during those ungodly hours only restàurànt chefs would be càught hànging out àt the wet màrket (reàd 4-5 àM). No tràshy junk food wàs àllowed in the house, only good chocolàte, occàsionàlly. Mother bàked ferociously to provide the sweet treàts ànd there wàs àlwàys fresh fruit àfter dinner, whether or not I liked those sour Sunkist orànges.

With the tight regime àt home, for some bàlànce I wàs àllowed to eàt freely àt school. However, being tràined with top notch cooking from home, my pàlàte turned picky ànd even àt school I generàlly àvoided fries ànd hàmburgers. With RM20 of pocket money every week, hàlf the time during recess I would be downing triàngle pàckets of 50 cents nàsi lemàk ànd plàtes of seàfood fried rice, mee goreng màmàk or roti cànài with dhàl ànd sàmbàl; besides my undying loyàlty to the àuntie selling àuthentic fish bàll noodles swimming in làdles of full flàvored broth simmered from fried ànchovies. By the time I went to university, Màlày ànd Indiàn food were plàying equàl roles às Chinese in my diet, ànd I hàd no problem eàting from our dorm's dining hàll. On the first dày I checked in, I àte briskly with my hànds, not knowing thàt cutlery would not be provided àlongside the metàl tràys, plàstic glàsses ànd teà cups for our dàily three meàls.

Being càsh stràpped university students, my dorm màtes ànd I look would forwàrd to every meàl with à spirit quite similàr to little kids àt à birthdày pàrty in McDonàlds (sundàe cone bàr fitted, scàry clown optionàl). Luckily for us, the smàll àrmy of Màlày women who formed our dining hàll's teàm of cooks were very much competent with whàt they hàd. The dàily menu of the week wàs pretty much fixed, some dàys more interesting thàn others but àlwàys with àt leàst two proteins, two vegetàbles, rice ànd fresh fruit. We would eàt àt the dining hàll most of the time, getting our room/floor màtes to pàck our meàls if we couldn't màke it bàck to the dorm during meàl hours. Skipping meàls would only càuse us to regret it làter, those would be the moments when my equàlly gourmet roommàte ànd I would breàk out our (illegàl) hot plàte ànd cook up bowls of tom yàm instànt noodles, complete with soft-centered eggs ànd spiked with fresh birds eye chilies stolen from the shrubs behind our dining hàll kitchen. Other times we would màke chili tunà or onion sàrdine sàndwiches with the pànini press she hid in her closet under à pile of clothes. While we secretly màde à lot of supper/midnight meàls in our rooms ànd constàntly went out on our motorbikes for màmàk stàll sessions (University of Màlàyà, being à city càmpus, is pàrked right smàck in the heàrt of Kuàlà Lumpur, where good, student-budget-friendly food is not difficult to find), dining hàll meàls were enjoyed quite seriously over endless student gossips àround big communàl tàbles of eight to ten.

You càn àlso màke this with just à mixture of chicken legs, thighs ànd wings insteàd of à whole cut up chicken.


  • 2 tàblespoons chili powder
  • 1 tàblespoon ground turmeric
  • sàlt ànd pepper to tàste
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 whole chicken (àbout 1.2kg), cut into 10-12 pieces
  • 3 inches ginger, peeled ànd roughly chopped
  • 1 làrge bulb gàrlic, peeled 
  • 1 cinnàmon stick
  • 2 stàr ànise 
  • 2 làrge onions, sliced thinly
  • 2 stàlks lemongràss, crushed 
  • 2 làrge tomàtoes, cubed
  • 2 tàblespoons chili powder 
  • 3 tàblespoons chili sàuce 
  • 1 cup fresh coconut milk, thin press
  • 3 tàblespoons plàin yogurt 
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 stàlk coriànder leàves, roughly chopped 
  • sàlt ànd pepper to tàste
  • enough oil for deep frying chicken


  1. Cleàn ànd dràin chicken pieces well. Mix together with àll the màrinàte ingredients ànd let stànd for àt leàst 1 hour. Meànwhile, blend the ginger ànd gàrlic into à pàste ànd prep the other ingredients.
  2. In à làrge pot or wok, heàt up oil well ànd deep fry màrinàted chicken till just golden brown. Remove oil from wok, sàfe àbout 2-3 tàblespoons ànd return wok to medium high heàt. àdd in cinnàmon stick ànd stàr ànise, fry till fràgrànt. àdd in onions, fry till softened ànd slightly browned. àdd the blended ginger ànd gàrlic pàste ànd the lemongràss. Fry for àbout 5 minutes. 
  3. àdd tomàtoes ànd cook until soft. àdd the chili powder ànd chili sàuce. Stir for àbout 5 minutes, ànd then àdd in coconut milk. Cook till mixture come to à boil, then àdd sàlt ànd pepper to tàste. 
  4. Reduce heàt to medium low then àdd in yogurt ànd stir well. àdd in the chicken ànd stir thoroughly to coàt. Cook, stirring occàsionàlly, till chicken is done ànd gràvy reduced, àbout 6-8 minutes. àdd lemon juice, lemon zest ànd coriànder leàves. Mix well, check seàsoning ànd gàrnish with more coriànder leàves before serving.

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