Ayam Berempah – Malay Spicy Chicken Recipe


Don’t you love Friday lunches? Me and the guys (and girl) at the office desperately do, as, with the working week almost over, we feel like we are owed something for having survived. So we usually indulge with some sort of guilty treat and more than likely finish up by buying some macarons from Lindt; or if we are feeling extra depressed, ice cream may be in order. For some reason, the burden of choice is usually on me, though the team is full of foodies, and I have to struggle to continuously find somewhere new and interesting for the guys to try out. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been dreaming about going to Mamak. To make things worse, I’ve been there several times, only to be met by a long queue of thirty or so hungry zombies with the same culinary affliction I have. I would have waited, but those who I convince to come with me to Mamak always decide that they would rather not wait. They’ve never been there before, so they don’t know what they’re missing, and as such, no amount of pleading would give them sufficient reason to queue up, take a chance and try the food.

Mamak is a Malaysian restaurant on Goulburn Street in Sydney’s Chinatown . They specialise in roti: flat, layered, buttery breads served with simple curry sauce for dipping. The prices are ridiculously cheap, with a basic roti at $5, but the food is awesome. I’ve become really intrigued by Malaysian food because of the many influences it demonstrates, but in particular, I’m very interested in the Arab and Persian influence on Malaysian cuisine. I won’t go to too much detail here, as my Malaysian friends would scream if I told them that laksa was originally Persian.

Not that ayam berempah is Persian or Arab or anything, but still, I want to talk to you about Mamak’s version of this miracle, or, as Google translates it, spicy chicken. This Friday, we got the guys together and left for a very early lunch which helped in beating the queues (but only by a split second). I went all the way with rotis and shared three different types with Priscila, but Erikson went for the ayam berempah, and when that arrived, I started drooling. The smell was intoxicating and the chicken looked unbelievable! Mamak’s ayam berempah is a plate of glorious, crunchy, super-spiced chicken, fried on the bone and served with more whole spices: cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and star anise. With one bite, I knew I had to make this dish.


Without harping on, this is my first attempt, using my memory from what I had yesterday and combining it with the hundred or so recipes I’ve seen online. One tip I want to give you: use chicken marylands (thigh and drumstick) cut into bite sized pieces with the bone attached, because it will retain its moisture and the bone will add extra flavour. Also, make sure the skin is on because it crisps up amazingly well, as the cornstarch, egg and spices stick to it. I served this with coconut rice, just as is. If you feel you need more sauce, though not traditional, a splash of soy does wonders. Or if you have sambal, go for it!

Ayam Berempah – Malay Spicy Chicken Recipe


  • 1 Kilo chicken marylands cuts into bite sized pieces on the bone
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 cm square of fresh ginger, crushed
  • 5 shallots, crushed
  • 2 heaped tbsp corn starch
  • 5 or so whole star anise
  • 10 whole cardamom pods, slightly bruised
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 5 cloves
  • 3 tsp cumin seeds, roasted and crushed
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds, roasted and crushed
  • 2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 tsp chilli powder (or as spicy as you like it)
  • 1.5 tbsp salt
  • 5 tbsp coconut milk
  • 1 egg


Mix, marinate then deep or shallow fry.


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