Wanitha Tanasingam is multi-talented and creative. I’ve been to Penang, Malaysia and tasted many fine dishes. I’m happy to share her bio as well as her delicious recipe and history of Kari Ayam, a chicken curry.
Wanitha was born to cook! Her father was the Head Chef for the Kedah Royal Family in Malaysia. Some of her earliest memories are of being on a stool, learning the difference between sour, bitter, salty and sweet! She grew up working daily with her father, exploring produce markets, buying, preparing and cooking.
Growing up in Penang, Wanitha moved to Australia in 1982, started a restaurant and founded a cooking school. Her passion and enthusiasm for food and cooking soon saw her appearing at public events, leading to appearing on morning television.
Wanitha created Rhythm and Movement in Cooking – Sacred Spices – for the Sydney Opera House using dancers, live cooking and live music. Followed by: ‘Cheeky Food Group’ – a successful ‘team building’ company, using food as a platform to motivate and inspire corporate clients..
Recently, she has been appointed Food Ambassador to the Malaysian Kitchens Programme Australia for MATRADE. Wanitha is now associated with Victors Food, Dank Street Sydney and continues to works with large corporate clients, consulting for trainig events and workshops..
In 2011 Wanitha is preparing to front her own TV show, Wantiha’s Malaysia for SBS Australia. The six x 30 min TV series will be a seductive journey through the cultures of Malaysian food. Going behind the scenes to meet the true master chefs of Malaysian food – the people who cook for a living every day – on the streets, in homes, restaurants and big hotels – Wanitha will take us wherever food is prepared. Series planned for launch late 2011..
Kari Ayam (Chicken Curry)
2 kg (about 4.4 pounds) chicken pieces with bones
2 Spanish onions, finely diced
4 cloves garlic
3 cm ginger
4 tbsp ghee
2 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick
2 springs curry leaves
1 strip pandan leaves, crushed and tied into a knot
3 tsp chilli paste (about 6-8 red chillies, blended)
2 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground turmeric
1½ tsp fennel seed, ground
1 cup water
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp pepper
2 cups tomato puree
2 cups coconut milk
- To make the Spice Mixture, mix the chilli paste, cumin, turmeric, fennel, water, salt and pepper. Marinate the chicken pieces in the mixture for 20-30 minutes.
- Blend the onion, garlic and ginger into a fine paste.
- Warm the oil in a large saucepan, add the star anise, cinnamon stick, curry leaves and pandan leaves and sauté briefly. Add the onion paste and continue to sauté.
- Add the chicken to the pan. Toss until all of the chicken is well coated with the rest of the ingredients.
- Cover and cook, returning to stir often. Add a bit of the tomato puree and coconut milk each time you stir.
- Continue cooking covered, stirring often, until chicken is well cooked.
History of Kari Ayam in Wanitha’s Words
Malaysian kari ayam (chicken curry) is very different from Indian chicken curry.
Chicken curry may have migrated from India with some of her peoples, but in Malaysia it stands as its own unique representation as it has evolved to incorporate local ingredients and methods.
This dish tells you the story of the Indians that came to Malaysia and their lives and food being impacted by the land that they migrated to.
The dish embraces local ingredients from Malaysia, such as pandan leaves and coconut cream. These ingredients are still grown locally, and very easily available. The local community of Malay are renowned for using chilli paste in most of their dishes, so of course that gets added to the curry as well. To cook the dish in Malaysia, we use a round clay pot, which adds to the flavour.
How does the clay pot add the flavour , as clay is no reactive to the spices , allows the curry to cook in its own juices and retains heat evenly.
You see the rich heritage of the multicultural past Malaysia so very alive today in the food we cook and offer to the world.
Malaysia tells you the tale of “foodprints” of cultural influences left in countless layers in her history of flavour and cuisine.
I hope you have enjoyed learning about Kari Ayam. I certainly appreciate Wanitha sharing.