World Food Spot 7: Satay

This is Pakcik. That is a name of endearment meaning “uncle”. I have known him and his wife for more than 30 years. They run a satay stall near my home and my family and I must have consumed and enjoyed thousands of sticks of satay over those years. He can actually remember me as a small kid, watched me grow up, remember when I first started work, remember when I got married and he has seen me grow sideways too.

I write this post with a tinge of sadness because he and his wife retired last month. He has definately earned his retirement but I will miss him as he has been practically a timeless institution in my life. Of course, I will also miss his delicious satay. Nevertheless, I wish Pakcik and his wife many happy years in retirement.

Satay consists basically of three flattened, marinated pieces of meat which are skewered and then grilled over a charcoal or wood fire. A key characteristic of the dish is the prominant use of tumeric and ginger in the meat marinade. The meat used in predominantly Islamic Malaysia is commonly that of chicken or beef. Non-muslims, especially Chinese in Penang and Melaka have a variant which uses pork as a meat and pineapple in the marinade and sauce.

Once cooked, the satay is served with a peanut based spicy dipping sauce. Also common accompaniments include rice steamed in pandanus leaves (called ketupat) and sliced cucumber and onions.

As with all barbequed meats, it has a powerfully pleasing aroma. Well cooked, its meat is tender and both sweet and savory to the taste. The spicy peanut sauce is also heady with spices and some people like the sauce so much they will eat it with rice.

The origin of satay is hotly disputed and shrouded in the mists of time. Most likely, the original concept could have come from Chinese or Arabian merchants as early as the 14th Century. The modern form of satay is likely to have originated in Indonesia but it has become a common sight in many Southeast Asian countries.

If you get a chance, try this dish. The tumeric and ginger marinade will seduce you. The smoky barbeque flavour will evoke a sense of mystery and for a squirrel, nothing beats a peanut based spicy dipping sauce.

(All pictures by LGS)

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