Satay is a favourite street food for so many people! Tiny pieces of marinated meat on skewers are barbecued to perfection before being served with a peanut sauce and slices of cucumber and onions.
Where does Satay come from?
Satay is found everywhere in South east Asia. So, where did Satay come from? Would it surprise you if I say that it does in fact owe its origins to the Middle East? Via India, of course.
It’s believed that Satay was introduced to the Indonesians by Indian traders in the form of kebabs, which of course, as we all know is a Persian invention. These kebabs were transformed into the satay or sate as we know it today by street vendors in Java.
Satay in The Netherlands and South Africa
Incidentally, Satay is also very commonplace in the Netherlands and former Dutch colonies, owing to the fact that Indonesia was a Dutch territory. This wonderful invention was one of the things the returning Dutchmen took home with them.
It is also a local food in South Africa, where it’s known as Sosatie, brought over by the Malays, known as Cape Malays. The term “sosatie” is a portmanteau of “sate” and “saus” (sauce).
Satay Club in Singapore
Singapore used to have an area just off the Singapore Cricket Club that was called Satay Club. All the vendors used to initially sell various forms of satay, which slowly expanded to include the usual local hawker foods like grilled ray, noodles and various forms of rice dishes.
This was a favourite haunt of mine and every Singaporean and expat I know!
The meat is marinated in a paste of spices before being cooked on coals. There is no magic formula for marinating the meat or for making the sauce. It is open to interpretations, according to one’s taste – with or without lemongrass and galangal, more chilli, less sugar, yu get the picture, don’t you?
The taste you are going for with satay is savoury and sweet. The traditional satay is marked by quite a bit of sweetness from the satay itself and hot and sweet from the sauce.
What’s important is, the size and thinness of the meat used. You want to cut your meat thinly for speedy cooking, so that it doesn’t lose too much moisture, yet is brown and crispy.
I frequently use firm tofu cubes, sliced thinly for this. They are fantastic! And these days (2019 – 5 years after I first wrote this post), the variety of meat substitutes is mind bogglingly amazing!
My kids have all recently gone vegetarian because of climate change. And because my girls are allergic to eggs, it’s just easier to look for vegan products.
I’m lucky that the folks I shop with, Ocado, focus on sourcing out small and new producers. Take a look at these chicken tikka skewers. My kids say taste like the real thing.
Satay sauce is made with ground peanuts. Traditionally, a whole lot of oil is used to make satay sauce. I am not a fan of this, and skip the oil altogether by just simmering all the ingredients together and cooking the sauce for about 10 minutes.
A slightly different slant is to add about 50ml (1/4 cup) of coconut milk to the sauce, a very common practice in Thailand.
The sauce can be refrigerated for 3 days and is perfect with so many other things, especially as a salad dressing.
Got a peanut allergy?
I’ve made satay sauce with hazelnuts and it was delicious, for those of you with peanut allergy. Cashew nuts are also good but will produce a much creamier sauce.
Shall we put our aprons on?
If you like the recipe, don’t forget to leave me a comment and that all important, 5-star rating! Thank you!
And if you make the recipe, share it on any platform and tag me @azlinbloor.
Satay – a favourite Street Food
- bowls as required
- barbecue or grill
- 500 g meat (chicken, beef, lamb or pork)
- 1 large onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 cm ginger
- 2 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ½ turmeric
- 3 Tbsp white sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 stalks lemongrass
- 1 cm galangal
- 50 ml coconut milk
- 50 ml vegetable or peanut cooking oil
- and about 20-30 wooden skewers
- 400 g peanuts dry roasted, in a pan
- 1 large onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 1-2 red chillies or more, to taste, I don’t like it too hot
- 150 ml water
- 4 Tbsp palm sugar
- 2 Tbsp white sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp tamarind or juice of half a lime
- Cut the meat into bite sized pieces, I’d say about 1-1.5 inches and thinly.
- Grind all the ingredients up to “Optional” to a smooth paste, adding water as necessary.
- Marinade the meat with the ground paste for a couple of hours at least but preferably overnight.
- Soak the skewers in water for about 30 minutes before threading the meat. This will stop the skewers from burning. The threading will take about 10-20 minutes, depending on your skill!
- Mix the basting ingredients and set aside.
- Barbecue or grill, basting from time to time, you shouldn’t need more than 3-5 minutes each side, depending on the thickness of your meat and the strength of your heat source.
- Chop the nuts to a coarse grind.
- Grind the onions, garlic and chillies to a smooth paste.
- Place all the sauce ingredients into a saucepan, bring to a boil and leave to simmer for 10 minutes or until thickened to desired consistency. Stir every so often.
14 thoughts on “Satay – a favourite Street Food from Singapore and Malaysia”
Dear Azlin, I recently read some of your recipes and even without making them, just by going over the ingredients, I can taste them and feel they are on the spot. I initially stumbled upon your Laksa Lemak recipe and some of your descriptions gave me the desire to read more from you. I have been craving the multi-cultural food from Malaysia lately and needed to taste the flavors of Laksa and Yong Tau foo. Today I live in a place where all the ingredients are available but where “asian food” tastes blend, awfully distorted to local taste buds and anything you order from the menu looks and tastes the same.
I have not yet tried your recipes but I can tell they are doing it for me. I browsed and I browsed but only yours made me come back. You are talented and generous, and I thank you for that.
One little comment about this Satay recipe, in the sauce procedure you mention ginger which is not in the ingredient list – it is in the meat marinade but not in the sauce.
Thank you again so much for making your knowledge readily available.
Hi Sam, thank you so much for your kind words. Doing this makes it worthwhile when I receive comments like yours.
The ginger – that was an error on my part. There is no ginger in the sauce, just onion, garlic and chillies. I’ll correct it asap.
Thank you again. Yong tau fu is on the list of things to get done. I’m gradually moving all the Singaporean, Malaysian and Indonesian recipes over to their new home: https://singaporeanmalaysianrecipes.com/.
That’s where the yong tau fu recipe will be, hopefully in the next month or two.
The chicken was amazing! I’m always looking for Singaporean recipes and this chicken recipe is great. I didn’t enjoy the peanut sauce, so I’ll make it without it next time.
Hi Sam, I’m glad you enjoyed the recipe. If the peanut sauce is not to your liking, serving the satay with some tomato ketchup or shop bought chilli sauce works too.
You might be interested in this other street food: Roti John, it’s a cooked baguette sandwich from Singapore. https://www.linsfood.com/roti-john/
Love the history lesson on this. I’ve never made my own satay. Thanks for giving the possibilities and changes that can be made for adaptations.
Thank you Renz, do let me know if you ever give it a try!
I love you gave a history of satay! I learned something new! This recipe is definitely going into the to try file for the holiday party we are having!
Thank you Ellen, I appreciate that!
Satay is one of my favorite foods!!
I love satay sauces and the best thing is that I’ve just discovered that my children will eat them too and so I’m sure to be making satay at home soon!
That’s fab news!
I adore all the flavours in this dish. Thai food is one of my absolute faves!!
Thank you, mine too, although satay isn’t really Thai food.