Posted on December 24, 2017 · Posted in Blog, General, Personal

A local food museum here declared that the word SATAY has Indian origins, and that “sathai” has to do with skin or surface meat in that language. This is befuddling. We don’t quite get Indian satay hawkers – they are not known or associated with this snack, yet, it has an Indian inspired name. It’s like Singapore Noodles. We can’t find it here, yet the rest of the world named one after us.
Then, there is another theory – that it is an ancient Sankrit word (some websites actually profess it). So, by now, there should be some archaeological find of some ancient wooden skewers with preserved bits of charred meat at its edges, dug out by some intrepid food historian in, say, Nepal, perhaps. But, no. There’s no such find thus far. So this theory is off my books.
But the warmest theory I have come across, is from Haji Samuri. He owns one of the biggest satay chains in Malaysia. While filming him for our Makansutra show, he revealed, in his shiny and swanky black Mercedes, that satay has Hokkien origins. His Indonesian pals tell him the meaning of the word is “three pieces” or satay in Hokkien. Two pieces of meat and a piece of fat – skewer them, grill it and you get satay. Plausible on many counts. I took that word to my expert makan peers in Indonesia and his reply was: “actually, I never thought of its origins but the word has no Bahasa Indonesian connections.”
So, it was the old migrant Hokkien and Hakkas who roosted in Indonesia that came up with this “three pieces” snack, utilising the ingredients and rich spices available in that land of abundance. Fast forward to today. Satay has many versions – from Malaysian Kajang style (very similar to the Malay version we get here, with spicy peanut sauce), Sate Gai – that Thai version which some back packer travel sites believe is the original version and even the Nonya version, done with pork and a sour fruity sauce (like pineapple or wild starfruit) with the spicy peanut dip.
What cooks and hawkers today do with the concept of satay is evolving, and it steers not far from its original heritage.
Satay here, there, everywhere
For starters, there’s no such thing as an Indian satay. At most you’ll find an Indian grilling local style satay, or making some kebabs (that’s another story). On its own, satay is a snack. Do stuff with the sauce and combine or top it with other dishes, and it’s another dish altogether. Create a banana leaf cone, pour the sauce down below, stick six skewers of satay in with cucumbers and onions with rice cakes (ketupat), and you have satay on the go-go. Stick them vertically into a tall juice glass over 5 cm of peanut sauce with a side plate of zucchini lime salad, and it’s chi-chi café satay for you.

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