Johor Kaki Travels for Food

Tony Boey johorkaki@gmail ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฌ Dairy of Singapore active senior. Best years of food, travel, lifestyle

History of Curry Puff & Epok Epok in Singapore & Malaysia

Swees Epok Epok in Batam
Food can tell us a lot about our history. When we munch on our favourite epok epok and curry puff, we are tasting a legacy of Portuguese, Dutch and English rule in Malaysia and Singapore for over half a millennia.

Santiago gate was all that is left of the Formosa fort which Afonso de Albuquerque built. Image credit: Wikipedia
The Portuguese arrived in our world in 1511, taking over and staying in Malacca for 130 years. Malacca together with Macau in China and Goa in India was Portugal's grand scheme to control the Spice Route between China and Portugal.

Image credit: Wikipedia
The Portuguese brought empanadas to Malacca (while the Spaniards took them to The Philippines). The Spanish word "empana" means bread and "empanada" means wrapped in bread.

These baked or fried wheat flour dough pockets filled with meat and vegetable were staples in Iberia i.e. Portugal and Spain. The idea came from the Middle East and the dish (a form of the Persian sanbosag ุณู†ุจูˆุณุงฺฏ‎ ) came to Iberia through Morocco.

From the Middle East, the Persian sanbosag went west to be the Iberian empanada and to the east it went to India to become the samosa.

Dutch style town square in Malacca. Image credit: Wikipedia
In 1641, the Dutch kicked the Portuguese out of Malacca with the help of the Johor Sultanate. In return, the Dutch agreed to leave the Johor Sultanate in peace.

The Portuguese gone but one of their legacies, the empanada survived Dutch rule, probably in the form of epok epok - a fried thin crust pocket filled with meat and/ or vegetable.

(As far as I know, the Dutch don't have an empanada type dish.)

In 1824, the English cut a deal with the Dutch for control of Malacca in exchange for Bencoolen (today's Bengkulu in Sumatra, Indonesia). Malacca then became part of the Straits Settlements together with Penang and Singapore.

Cornish pastry. Image credit: Wikipedia
Puff pastry. Image credit: Wikipedia
And so came Cornish pastry and English puff pastry to our sunny shores.

Then, things got even hazier as there are no written records. An unknown, unsung hero put curried meat and potato inside puff pastry and created the proto-curry puff.

The curry puff is like the reunion in British Malaya of the the long lost Persian sanbosag siblings - the Indian samosa and Iberian empanada with English puff pastry.

Salahuddin Bakery in Johor Bahru 
One form is those triangular baked Indian karipap with curried mutton and potatoes inside layered crisp flaky crust. They were my favourite school tuck shop meal for 10 cents in 1970s Singapore. 

I said proto- because since then, there are countless variations on the crust as well as the curried fillings.

Love this recipe ๐Ÿ‘†

The names also got mixed up in the melting pot, literally. The term curry puff is used to refer to any crust whether they are puff pastries or not. The term epok epok is referred to as the "Malay curry puff" or even "the Malay word for curry puff".

Er Jie Curry Puff
Right now, curry puff refers to any foldover pastry with curried fillings.

But as KF Seetoh, founder of Makansutra once famously told Anthony Bourdain, "Got good food, you want to talk so much for what?" ๐Ÿ˜‚

Just whack lah ๐Ÿ˜‹๐Ÿ˜„

Where to get the best curry puff / epok epok in Singapore and Malaysia ah?

Date: 29 May 2020


  1. "Got good food, you want to talk so much for what?"
    because you keep claiming everything ;)

    it's disingenuous that singaporeans say why fight over food origins or why talk so much about food etc when it is singaporeans that started the claiming. if u didnt claim its origins ppl wont get triggered. so u cant go around claiming its from sg then when ppl get all fussed so u cant why talk so much abt food... cant have your cake and eat it too

    1. Dear Anonymous, where in this article did I claim curry or epok epok originated from Singapore? Thank you


I share hoping that everyone will have a good time but your experience may differ from mine. I love to know how you enjoyed yourself or if you didn't. All comments with genuine identities are published.