chicken / poultry soup / stew

Ayam Kapitan/ Chicken Kapitan (Malaysian/ Singaporean Chicken Curry)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014Enz F

We, Filipinos, love to listen to folklore legends and fantasy stories. In fact, folktales are considered to be an integral branch of our national literature. Who would have never experienced the afternoon until dusk story-telling sessions led by the grandma seated on her squeaking rocking chair? Yes, I was among the Pinoy youngsters at my time who were amazed by the tales of "Si Malakas at Si Maganda" (The Strong and the Beautiful), a Filipino version of the story of creation - the first man and woman who emerged from the split giant bamboo tree. Probably, Were you startled too by the poor fate of a young girl named Pina? She was the girl who was unintentionally cursed by her mother to have her eyes multiplied all over her head that eventually transformed her into a lowly spiky pinya (pineapple). Numerous Filipino folktales, mostly regarded as fiction or man-made, that never failed to tickle our young imagination while allowing us to embrace simple lessons of life.

Everytime I get to encounter other Asian dishes, I could not help but to always compare them, the ingredients and cooking methods as well as the story and culture behind them, with the Filipino dishes I have grown up with. Being located at some part of the Asian neighborhood, it gives me that sense of belongingness and connection whenever I get to identify similarities to our language, way of living and cuisine despite the bodies of water that separate us and the different clashing influences that came to settle to our respective lands long time ago. I am not a traveler nor a voracious reader or internet nerd. But when I joined the Foodies+ group in Google+, a food community well-represented by contributors from all over the seven continents, I was introduced to multitudes of dishes around the world. I was also given a chance, in my humble way, to give them a grasp of what my little country, the Philippines, can offer to the world. In that G+ Community, I got to know a well-loved South East Asian curry dish. The ingredients and its cooking method revived that feeling of belongingness that I was talking about. It was even intensified when I learned how the name and origin were associated to a legendary folk story, a medium of language that served as a unifying bond to my country's culture and literature. 

Ayam Kapitan got its name from a popular Malaysian folklore legend.
It is interesting to note how we, Filipinos, are so fond of weaving stories, some are true and some are superficial, to create an ancestral throwback of the origin of many things. Surprisingly, similar literary traits do exist in our neighboring Asian countries. Malaysia and Singapore are no exceptions. The tale of Ayam Kapitan or Chicken Kapitan is one of the folktales I have come across with. It meant to evoke a lighter mood and a more positive disposition in the midst of frustration. The story goes something like this: 

Malaysia was used to be a British colony on the early days. During that time, British settlers brought with them a lot of Chinese to serve as workers and house helps. There came a ship captain along with his Chinese cook. The cook was so upset by his incapacity to get the suitable ingredients to make delicious meals that he used to cook for his captain. One day, he found an old Malay neighbor cooking a very aromatic and mouthwatering curry. He begged for the recipe and asked the lady to teach him how to cook the dish with the available Malaysian spices around. He later on tweaked the dish by incorporating some Chinese ingredients to soften the strength of the spices so the British captain would get to like it. He served it on dinner with the captain and his guests. When the captain finally tasted the dish, he was astonished and delighted. He asked the cook what it was which the cook replied in Malay, “Ayam, Kapitan,” - literally means “Chicken, Captain”. The captain mistakenly thought the whole phrase was the actual name of the dish, so from then on, he regularly requested for the dish and the name “Ayam, Kapitan” was already stamped to it. 

The incorporation of spices is one of the distinct similarites of Bicol Express and Ayam Kapitan.
When Azlin Bloor, a known versatile cookery teacher and one of the respected moderators of Foodies+, featured Ayam Kapitan on one of her Google+ Hangout on Air, I was in awe to find out a number of resemblances to an authentic Filipino curry dish known to us as Bicol Express. Except for the use of pork instead of chicken and the manner of incorporation of the flavorful ingredients which are rather simply sliced than pounded into paste, three distinct similarities strengthened my suspicion that Bicol Express is a distant cousin of Ayam Kapitan: the foul-smelling shrimp paste (Filipino: bagoong alamang; Malay: belachan), hot chilies and spices to sizzle up the dish and the creamy coconut milk to soften and tame the flavors. 

Ayam Kapitan must be a distant cousin of our local Bicol Express.
I tried to cook Ayam Kapitan knowing that my fellow foodies at home will get to love it as much as they love Bicol Express. And yes, I never failed. My captains were very much delighted. It was sort of new to them but they easily got attached to it eventually. The search for the ingredients and spices was never a challenge to me except for a couple of them which are either not being normally cultivated in our local soil or simply not a common item in the market but could be found planted somewhere in our distant provinces. While I was able to substitute the soft strands of lemongrass for Kaffir lime leaves and use cashew nuts in place of the more pricey macademia nuts, I remained adherent to Azlin’s advice to never substitute anything for galangal as there is no suitable equivalent for such. Just leave it as is and the curry will still produce a fantastic result.

This Chicken Kapitan is my personal adaptation of the recipe of Azlin Bloor. You can check out the link here below for the original recipe from her food blog, LinsFood and for the event page of her Hangout on Air in Google+, and braise yourself for some happy learning experience. 

Ayam Kapitan/ Chicken Kapitan (Malaysian/ Singaporean Chicken Curry)
Number of Servings: 4 to 6


  • 2 lbs. bone-in chicken, sliced into serving slices 
  • 3-4 cups fresh coconut milk (around 800 mL.) 
  • 6 pcs. Kaffir lime leaves or 3 strands of tanglad or lemongrass (the soft part), a knot tied at the middle 
  • 1 tsp. salt 
  • 2 tbsps. cooking oil 
  • 2 tbsps. fried onions 
For the curry paste 
  • 10 pcs. small onions 
  • 6 cloves garlic 
  • 1-inch sized ginger 
  • 1-inch sized fresh turmeric 
  • 1-inch sized galangal 
  • 3 stalks of tanglad or lemongrass (the hard bottom half) 
  • 6 (or more) red Thai chilies 
  • 5 pcs. candlenuts/ macademia nuts or 10 pcs. cashew nuts 
  • 1 tbsp. shrimp paste, toasted 

  1. Grind the relevant ingredients to as fine a paste as you can. Manually pound or pulse them in a food processor, whatever is more preferred and more convenient. 
  2. Heat the cooking oil in a large pan on high heat and sauté the curry paste for 2 to 3 minutes. Set the heat to adjust the temperature if necessary. You have done it long enough when it is very fragrant and the oil begins to separate from the paste. 
  3. Toss in the chicken pieces and stir to thoroughly coat it with paste. 
  4. Pour in the coconut milk and add the salt. Simmer uncovered for 30 to 45 minutes until the chicken is done. Tougher chicken parts like the legs will take longer to cook. 
  5. About 5 minutes before the end of cooking time, add the lime leaves or the knotted lemongrass, whatever is available. Adjust the salt if necessary. 
  6. Sprinkle the top with fried onions. Serve with hot steamed rice. Enjoy! 

  1. Chop the ingredients for the curry paste into fine pieces so it will be easier to handle during the grinding process. 
  2. Add a splash of lime or lemon juice towards the end of cooking to add a little tang.

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