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A Lesson in Sate (Satay)

29 November 2011

Many Americans are familiar with “satay” (sate in Indonesian) as an appetizer in Thai restaurants. Malaysians will tell you sate was invented in their country, and they can even take you to the original sate restaurant, in Kajang. I ate at Sate Kajang back in 2005, and the sate was delicious. In Indonesia, however, no one makes a fuss about where sate comes from — everyone just eats it! You can see and smell it cooking on narrow charcoal grills on the streets all over Bandung.

What you see above is probably the most basic sate meal (and my lunch today). The 10 skewers of chicken breast and thigh meat are nicely marinated, succulent, and cooked to order on a simple charcoal box-grill sitting outside the restaurant. This place, called Sate Ponorogo, is beside an outlet store called Famos on Jalan Dipati Ukur, in Bandung. It is a very simple eating place, with about six tables. Two young men cook and serve everything. The menu has about 20 food items.

The 10 skewers of sate ayam daging (chicken meat sate) cost Rp 16,000 ($1.75 U.S.). The white rice (notice the dainty garnish of crispy fried shallots): Rp 2,500 (27 cents). Yes, this is a $2 lunch. Add a bottle of Tehbotol (sweetened iced tea in a glass bottle — far more common here than Coca Cola) for another Rp 2,500 (27 cents), or splurge on a glass of fresh iced fruit juice (strawberry is most expensive: Rp 7,000 or 77 cents).

The peanut sauce (sambal kacang) is unlimited — you get a nice little pot of it, so you can ladle on as much as you want. Let me point out, for the Americans among you, that this peanut sauce did not come out of a bottle. Neither is it made with peanut butter from a jar. Freshly fried peanuts were crushed with a mortar and pestle, together with fresh chili, probably some palm sugar, maybe some soy sauce and/or diced shallot, and certainly some water. It’s not too spicy. It tastes wonderfully of fresh peanuts.

A red chili sambal was in another plastic pot beside the peanut sauce, but I ignored that. The taste of the grilled chicken is so good, I didn’t feel any need to spice it up.

I like to spoon the peanut sauce beside the meat and then scrape the meat off each skewer into the sauce. The dark brown liquid is kecap manis, a ubiquitous condiment here that’s like a marriage between mild soy sauce and sweet molasses. A bottle of kecap manis should be on the table! A classier restaurant will give you a plate of it, along with some sliced cucumber, some chilis and shallots, and maybe some lontong (pressed rice cakes).

I am partial to sate ayam (chicken sate) — especially when I know it’s all meat, like this version. I had some beef sate that had chunks of beef fat alternating with the (quite delicious) meat on each skewer; maybe Indonesians prefer that, but I wasn’t thrilled to be eating beef fat. My friends here tell me I must try the chicken skin sate — it is grilled but not crispy. So far, I have not tasted it.

Other popular choices are the sate kelinci (rabbit), which is sold at hundreds of roadside stalls just north of Bandung city, and sate kambing (lamb), which is served with a different kind of sambal. I like the lamb very much, but I haven’t stopped to try the rabbit because there are live bunnies in cages right next to the grill …

8 Comments leave one →
  1. 29 November 2011 7:50 pm

    WOW! That looks incredible. I am very jealous of your lunch!

  2. 29 November 2011 8:15 pm

    Hee hee — @secondhelpingsplease, it WAS delicious!

  3. Jody permalink
    29 November 2011 9:50 pm

    The peanut sauce looks amazing! Imagine that–using real peanuts instead of peanut butter! What a concept! 😉 The satay looks so good, I wish I could just reach into my monitor and have a taste! Glad you got to enjoy it. Jody

  4. 29 November 2011 11:13 pm

    Beautiful post. It frustrates me that I can not buy a take away cheese sandwich for the all in price of your beautiful lunch. I love your photography too,

  5. 30 November 2011 6:45 am

    @Jody – the sauce has a wonderful flavor, but I must admit, sometimes it has a rapid and unfortunate interaction with my digestive system. It’s worth it. @Conor Bofin – thank you! My camera is inexpensive Canon PowerShot that’s more than five years old now.

  6. justagirl permalink
    17 December 2011 12:21 am

    Hi, I’m an exchange student from Indonesia and now I’m living in United States. It’s kinda funny when I found this blog and see how you found a new thing about my country and I found new thing in United States (I feel kinda backward)… anyway, enjoy your life! There are a lot of unique things about Indonesia, hope you can discover them… when I’m struggling to find unique stuffs from USA! Enjoy! 😀

  7. 17 December 2011 9:54 am

    @justagirl – Try to make some American friends so they can take you around and show you how average Americans live in their homes! I think some of the best experiences are when people show you something that is very common and ho-hum to them … but for a foreigner, these things can be menarik sekali.

  8. Indonesian permalink
    16 July 2014 9:54 pm

    Satay was invented in Java as a modification of Middle eastern kebab brought by Arab traders in the 19th century. Most websites on the Internet will explain the detail.

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