Appetising Nyonya Acar Hu (Nyonya pickled silver mullet)

Nyonya Acar Hu © Adrian Cheah

Nyonya Acar Hu is one of my favourite acar options that can truly whet one's appetite. Mum has been making this savoury delight for as long as I can remember. Its appetising flavours can be appreciated with a plate of steamed white rice.

This dish is like no other, combining a beautiful balance of sweet and sour flavours, spiced with cabai burung (bird’s eye chillies), ginger and of course, fresh turmeric. Other ingredients like shallots and garlic cloves are little preserved nuggets that complement the fish well. The deep-fried fish, given ample time to develop in the fresh turmeric vinaigrette are extremely tasty and tantalising. This is a dish that will wake up all your senses.

Besides the popular Chee Ya Hu (silver mullet), you can also use other chunkier fish fillets (although I would highly recommend the former). Below is a list of ingredients you would require for making the Nyonya Acar Hu.

Nyonya Acar Hu © Adrian Cheah

Ingredients for deep-frying the fish

  • 1 kg Chee Ya Hu or fish fillets

  • 2 tsp fine salt (or to taste)

  • 3 tsp turmeric powder

  • 1 cup oil

Nyonya Acar Hu © Adrian Cheah

Ingredients for blanching

  • 2 cups water

  • ½ cup vinegar

  • 1 tbsp sugar

  • 8-10 whole shallots (remove the skin)

  • 8-10 whole garlic cloves (remove the skin)

  • 30 g (3) red chillies (seeded and cut into big pieces)

  • 30 g (3) green chillies (seeded and cut into big pieces)

  • 10 pieces cabai burung (remove stamps)

Ingredients for spiced vinegar marinade 

  • ½ cup cooking oil

  • 30 g (5 cm) fresh turmeric root (slice thinly)

  • 100 g young ginger (julienne)

  • 100 g garlic (sliced thinly)

  • 1 cup vinegar or to taste

  • 8-10 tbsp sugar or to taste

  • 2 tsp salt (or to taste)

  • ½ – ¾ cup water (depending on how strong you like the vinaigrette to be)

  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds (toasted)

Nyonya Acar Hu © Adrian Cheah


  1. Gut and clean the fish (some fishmongers will help). Pat the fish dry and season with salt and turmeric powder. Deep-fry the fish till crispy and golden. If you enjoy a crunchier bite, fry the fish with a stronger flame. Drain on paper towels and set aside to cool.

  2. In a pot, season 2 cups of boiling water with vinegar and a little sugar. (This is optional – add 1 tbsp turmeric powder if you like to colour the ingredients yellow.) Blanch whole shallots, garlic cloves, red chillies, green chillies and cabai burung for about 2-3 minutes. Drain on paper towels and set aside to cool. Some cooks will blanch carrots and cucumber as well.

  3. Add 5 tbsp oil to a wok and stir-fry turmeric slices until the oil turns yellow. Discard the turmeric.

  4. Using the turmeric oil, stir-fry the ginger and garlic slices till golden. Remove from oil and set aside to cool.

  5. In the wok with the turmeric oil, add vinegar, sugar and salt to taste. Add enough water to dilute the potency of the vinaigrette to your liking. Bring to a boil and immediately turn off the heat. Set aside to cool.

  6. Combine all ingredients when they are at room temperature. If you add in the fried fish when the gravy is still hot, they will lose their crispness. Store in a sterilised glass jar and allow the dish to pickle for at least two days. This will provide ample time for the fish to absorb the flavours. With time, this dish will taste even better. It keeps well for about a week at room temperature and longer in the refrigerator. Serve garnished with toasted sesame seeds.

Nyonya Acar Hu © Adrian Cheah

Note: Mum would sun the turmeric, ginger, sliced garlic and fish before frying. By drying the fish in the sun, they will be crispier and would splatter less. Although fried fish is delicious, it is one of my least favourite things to cook in the kitchen because cleaning up is a hassle. Thus, when I decide to make Acar Hu, I would make a large batch.

Written and photographed by Adrian Cheah 
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Updated 16 June 2021