Devil’s Curry: Heritage dish from Melaka

Devil’s Curry, a dish popular with the Portuguese community of Melaka, is great to serve on special occasions. (Low Bee Yinn pic)

This is an authentic recipe that originated in Melaka. Devil’s Curry, or Kari Debal, is a special-occasion dish made popular by the Portuguese community of Melaka.

Unlike other Malaysian curries, Devil’s Curry is flavoured with vinegar for the sharp taste.

In the 15th century, Melaka was the most important trading port in Southeast Asia and the Sultanate of Melaka was a powerful empire. In 1511, the Portuguese conquered Melaka, starting the colonisation of the Malay Peninsula.

Many Portuguese settled down and married local women and their descendants form Melaka’s Cristang or Portuguese community today.


Spice paste:

  • 20-30 dried red chillies, seeded and soaked in water for 20-30 minutes
  • 8 small shallots, coarsely chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 3 stalks lemongrass, white part only, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced galangal
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/4 cup cooking oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons water

Other ingredients

  • 60ml cooking oil
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 1.5 kg chicken, cut into pieces
  • 450 g potatoes, peeled and cut into pieces
  • 230 ml water
  • Salt and sugar to taste
  • 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
  • Coriander, for garnishing, optional


  • Place all the ingredients for the spice past into a blender and puree until smooth. Set aside.
  • In a Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat the oil on medium heat, add the mustard seeds and fry until they start to pop.
  • Add the spice paste and fry until aromatic, about 10 minutes or until the oil separates.
  • Add the chicken and stir to coat with the spice paste. Let it cook for eight to 10 minutes, add the potatoes and stir to combine well.
  • Pour in the water. It should barely cover the meat and potatoes.
  • Add the salt and sugar to taste. Stir well and bring it to a boil.
  • Cover with a lid and simmer over low heat for 20 to 30 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.
  • Adjust the seasoning with salt and sugar. Add the white vinegar or tamarind juice (refer to Tips). Stir to mix well.
  • Garnish with coriander, if using and serve hot with steamed rice.


  • The number of dried red chillies used depends on the preferred level of spiciness.
  • Replace the vinegar with tamarind. To make tamarind juice, mix three tablespoons of tamarind pulp with about 75 ml of water. Use the fingers to squeeze the pulp a few times to get the juice out. Strain the liquid, discard the tamarind pulp and use the juice.

This recipe can be found in Rasa Malaysia.

Low Bee Yinn is a food blogger and cookbook author.