Wednesday, June 16, 2010


June 16

On your left, please enjoy a beautiful picture by Albert Foo, the kind man and extraordinary photographer who accompanied us on Penang and has rejoined us here in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur.

He actually took that picture at the Shangri-La Rasa Sayang in Penang, and once I get his shots from last night I’ll replace it, or possibly just add it below for the sake of contrast, because this picture would not be approved by Matrade.

[update: I did it; I added the new picture below]

Malaysia’s export-promotion body takes its satay seriously, you see, and this satay is displayed incorrectly.

Satay is not just a bunch of skewers of meat, it’s a meal. Like the one on the right, in the picture taken, of course, by the inimitable Albert Foo.

Incidentally, it’s also not Thai, any more than tacos are American. You can get satay in Thailand, but they’ll tell you flat out that it’s Malay.

Whether it’s Malaysian Malay or Indonesian Malay is open to debate, but everyone agrees, more or less, that satay was invented by the people of the Malay archipelago.

Honey Ahmad, chief content creator and co-founder of, who accompanied us last night to a restaurant called Satay Station, says the term might be an abbreviation of salai di tepat.

Salai is the Malay word for barbecue, and a tepat is a makeshift grill.

Makes sense to me.

But as I was saying, satay is more involved than that. To be called satay by Malaysian standards, it must be served with pickled cucumber [see comment #1 below] and onion as well as peanut sauce.

And it must also come with rice.

Ideally, satay is served with nasi ketupat, which is made by pouring uncooked rice into a sort of stiff pouch made by weaving coconut leaves together. That’s put in boiling water, and as the rice cooks it expands and is compressed into one solid piece of rice, which is then sliced and eaten with the satay (and also dipped in peanut sauce if you like).

If you don’t have nasi ketupat (and Satay Station doesn’t have it) nasi himpit, which is boiled white rice pressed together into one solid piece, will do.

A Matrade-sanctioned picture of satay must have the skewered meat, cucumbers, onions and rice in it.

Honey explained that satay is made by pounding together fresh turmeric, sugar, onion (or shallot — usually shallot) and lemon grass and marinating cubed meat in it — any meat, including liver or tripe or whatever you like — for about a day.

Then you skewer it and cook it over coals, being sure to let some of it caramelize.

We had chicken, beef and chicken liver satay, with a really sweet peanut sauce with coconut milk in it. The beef had little bits of fat skewered on it, too, and the chicken had pieces of fatty skin.

It was fantastic.

It was preceded by mee rebus, which you can see on the left (in a picture by Albert Foo) made in the style of Johor state, I’m told. That’s yellow noodles, green chile and seafood broth with potatoes, sweet potatoes, boiled eggs and fried shallot.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Bret,
Great piece on Satay, hopefully not tongue in cheek? We do take our satay very seriously, unlike pretenders here in the sf Bay Area. I hate to nitpick but there was one tiny inaccurate detail on the accompaniments. Sliced cucumbers are fresh, not pickled. Did you also mention red onions?
I found your blog through a link from CK Lam's piece on your visit to Penang. Looking forward to reading the rest.