Satay, the South East Asian equivalent of the kebab in Turkey or yakitori in Japan can be found virtually everywhere on the shores of South East Asian countries. Originated in Indonesia, satay is a mini kebab with pieces of meat usually chicken, mutton or beef – or even pork as sold by the Chinese – skewered on thin bamboo sticks and casually cooked over a flaming charcoal grill. This delectable dish is typically served with a small bowl of fragrant peanut sauce which serves as a clever pairing.
Tumeric is one of the main ingredients of the satay, which gives it its distinct yellow coloring and tangy taste. Its sweet and tasty flavouring is due to a number of herbs and spices that goes into its marinate recipe, typically brown sugar, cumin, garlic, lemon grass and ginger.
Throughout Malaysia, the variations of the satay are plenty. More commonly, the typical charcoal grilled Satay can be found at hawker centres or pasar malam (night markets) throughout the states of Malaysia and in Singapore. A satay seller can be easily spotted from afar by the smoke, the aggressive waving of the distinctive satay fan, flames dancing from a portable charcoal pit and the aroma of the oils from the satay. Served up with sides of raw red onions, cucumbers and ketupat (compacted rice cake) and one can be on their way to flavour heaven.
In the state of Selangor, a well known and popular version among locals and tourists is satay Kajang, earning this town in eastern Selangor its informal title of the Satay Town. There is even a satay museum (Galeri Sate) showcasing the history of Kajang satay. One of the most popular restaurants is Haji Samuri, which has expanded to 20 outlets within Selangor and interstate.
In parts of Penang and Malacca however, locals are used to having their satay on a self-servicing approach. It can be a tad bemusing at first to see people gathering around a minivan – usually a white one – and dipping sticks of meat and seafood into a dark bubbling pit of sweet peanut sauce, but one would find out soon why the locals love it so much. This is called ‘satay celup’ where sticks of raw chicken, mutton, beef, squid, quail eggs or vegetables are cooked in the hot peanut sauce and for an added flavour, it can go along very well with different types of chilli sauces available.
Another type of satay resembles that of the hotpot culture where most can be seen dipping sticks into boiling hot water before drenching them into different types of hot sauces. This type of satay is called the ‘satay lok lok’ and it has become somewhat of a supper culture for most Malaysians and also serves as a good wrap-up after a good night of hitting the clubs.
The satay has proven to be one of the most distinctive local foods of South East Asia because of its exotic blend of ingredients that can be easily found at the local provision stores. It is with no surprise that this unique and colourful dish is worthy of being national food icons for both Malaysia and Singapore when food tourism is concerned and is evident to be loved by many as a must-have item for an Asian barbecue.