Ayam Woku: Manado Spiced Chicken

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Nunuk Sri Rahayu
Nunuk Sri Rahayu
Nunuk hails from Solo, the historic royal capital and cultural centre of Java, Indonesia. She has been cooking since the age of 12, and also performs and teaches traditional Javanese dance. Her dream is to eventually write her own Indonesian cookbook.

Ayam woku is a culinary delight from Manado, North Sulawesi. The star ingredient here is chicken, cooked in herbs and chillies. The dish’s name comes from the woka leaf (Livistona altissima, a genus of palm) used during the cooking process. Woka trees thrive in Sulawesi and the leaves are often used as a food wrapper, something unique to Manado. According to the Manadonese, food wrapped in a woka leaf will taste more delicious, and it’s obviously visually more pleasing.

Woku also refers to certain spices used for making the dish. There are two kinds of woku: woku balanga (cooked in a belanga or cooking pot) and woku daun (wrapped in woka leaf and steamed and/or grilled over charcoal).

The meat used in woku doesn’t have to be limited to just chicken or poultry. Other meat such as beef, pork and seafood can be used as well. Please feel free to substitute the main ingredients with your choice of meat or seafood for this recipe. 


Woku dish uses a mix of fresh herbs which makes it quite aromatic. The ginger and chillies add some heat and the tomato makes the dish lighter and fresher. Traditionally, after all the spices are sauteed and the meat is cooked in a pot, wrapped in woka leaf, and then grilled just before serving. But as it is hard to find the leaf outside Sulawesi, we will stop the cooking process at the pot. Even so, the flavour is still very delicious. Ayam woku is best enjoyed with plenty of rice. 

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Ayam Woku: Manado Spiced Chicken

Ayam Woku: Manado Spiced Chicken

  • Author: Nunuk Sri Rahayu
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 40 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Yield: 5 1x
  • Category: Poultry
  • Method: Sauteing
  • Cuisine: Indonesian
  • Diet: Halal


A popular dish from Manado, North Sulawesi, ayam woku is a dish of chicken cooked with herbs, spices, and a ton of chillies. In Manado, it is often wrapped in a woka leaf and grilled just before eating.


  • 1 medium chicken, cut to pieces
  • 1 small lime
  • 4 big red chillies, chopped
  • 5 bird’s eye chillies
  • 8 small shallots, peeled, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled, chopped
  • 3 cm ginger, peeled, chopped
  • 2 cm turmeric, peeled, chopped
  • 4 candlenuts, chopped
  • 1 red tomato, chopped
  • 1 lemongrass, bruised, cut to 4 cm pieces
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 pandanus leaf, cut into 3 cm pieces
  • 1 turmeric leaf (optional), cut to small pieces
  • 3 stalks spring onions, chopped
  • A handful of kemangi leaves (Indonesian basil), use only the leaves.
  • Salt to taste
  • 200 ml water
  • 3 tbsp cooking oil


  1. Wash the chicken thoroughly, and then squeeze the lime and rub the juice all over the chicken. Set aside.
  2. Blend into a fine paste: big red chillies, bird’s eye chillies, shallots, garlic, turmeric, ginger, candlenuts and tomato.
  3. In a wok, heat the oil in a medium heat, and then sauté the chilli paste.
  4. Add the lemongrass, pandan leaves, kaffir lime leaves and turmeric leaves. Fry for another 4 minutes until fragrant.

    Add the herbs and fry

  5. Add the chicken pieces, fry for about 2 minutes, then add water.

    Add the chicken pieces

  6. Add the salt.
  7. Cook the chicken in the chili paste over medium heat for about 30 minutes or until the chicken is done and the sauce thickens.
  8. Add the spring onion and basil leaves, cook for around 1 minute and then turn off the heat.

  9. Transfer the dish to a serving plate.


  • Sometimes the chicken is fried prior to cooking, but I omitted the step for a healthier version.
  • Adjust the amount of the chilli, especially the bird’s eye chilli, according to your tolerance level.
  • I added a few drops of lime juice for extra freshness after the cooking was done and it tasted great!

Keywords: Spicy, candlenuts, lime leaves, woka leaves

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  1. Tried this recipe last week and it tasted SO GOOD. Despite the look, it actually felt very light in your mouth. The spices hit the right spot without overwhelming my palate. Also, you gotta eat this one with some white rice, it’ll be 1000x better, trust me!


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