Satay: The national dish that skewered our hearts

Different varieties of satay with slices of compressed rice, cucumber, shallots and a bowl of peanut sauce.

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By Wilfred Pilo

KUCHING, July 24: The first time I heard of a dish called satay was back in the seventies, when I was still in primary school. We used to sing a song titled ‘I am a satay man’ in our music classes.

It was a fun song to sing and learn, and our music teacher would make us repeat the lyrics if we sang it wrong. Because of this, satay remained implanted in the memory cells of my brain and taste buds; a clever gimmick that made us curious about the dish.

Nowadays, satay has become a mainstay of street stalls and can even be found at established eateries throughout the country.

A town called Kajang in Selangor has also become famous for their take on the dish, aptly called Satay Kajang.

Traditionally prepared by grilling seasoned meat on wooden skewers, satay has become ubiquitous throughout Southeast Asia, and the local variety is especially popular when served with a specially prepared satay sauce that gives it a tangy and heavy flavour.

Original Satay food stall owner Mohd Kamaruzam Sabin prepares slices of chicken to be made into satay.

Original Satay food stall owner Mohd Kamaruzam Sabin told the writer recently that he has been in the satay business for 15 years.

“Initially, we started serving chicken and beef satay, but as demand increased, we introduced mutton meat and skin of the chicken to the menu. Ever since then, we have served such satay dishes at our stall,” he said.

Mohd Kamaruzam takes great care in preparing his satay by ensuring that the meats are all thinly sliced so that can be served in bite-sized chunks.

“We want the satay to grill thoroughly after you skewer the meat with a thin bamboo stick. If the meat is too chunky, it will take longer to grill and, customers will have to wait longer for the dish,” he said.

“Most of the time, there must be enough charcoal burning so that the hot ember generates a uniform temperature. It will make the meat cook properly and not burn,” he explained.

He also revealed that chicken satay meat and chicken skin satay cooks faster than beef or mutton.

Satay being grilled over hot charcoal on a barbeque pit.

“Constant monitoring is needed when grilling over the hot embers and, we need to turn the meat every few minutes. And, cooking oil is brushed onto the skewered meat to give an extra aroma to the dish.

“Overall, chicken meat needs ten minutes to cook, and that is five minutes on each side. For the beef and the mutton, it takes a slightly longer time to grill. It takes about seven minutes on each side.

Mohd Kamaruzam disclosed that most local satay is prepared and marinated with almost the same ingredients.

“The star ingredient is the turmeric. I have no secret ingredient in my satay. I used turmeric, coriander, cumin and Korma powder, lemon-grass, galangal, salt and sugar to marinate the meat.

For his peanut sauce which is a must-have accompaniment to the dish, he disclosed that he used a closely guarded family recipe.

The Original Satay food stall at Expert Food Court, RH Plaza.

“My wife will prepare the peanut sauce as a dip for the satay. The toasted peanut is blended and later boiled until the oil surfaces. And, finally, the chilli paste is added to the sauce with seasonings.

“Our peanut sauce is sweet yet spicy at the same time,” he said.

“You also can eat Satay together with slices of rice, cucumber and shallots. The meal is very filling, especially if you dip them in peanut sauce,” he said.

“Like that song, ‘I am the satay man’, do come and buy from me,” he laughed.

The Original Satay food stall is located in the vicinity of Expert Food Court, RH Plaza and also provides food catering services.

It operates daily from 5pm to 10pm, except for Tuesday. For any inquiries, call 014-899 3655. — DayakDaily