Sate Sambas's Mohtar prepares satay for the grill
The celebrated satay stall has been filling Jakarta’s air with kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)-laced skewers since 1981. That’s when owner Mohtar moved from a remote island off Java to begin a delicious new life over a hot grill, serving up skillfully grilled sticks of mutton, chicken, chicken skin and more.
Grilling the tender meat sticks begin with a dousing of expertly blended sauce, including Indonesia’s national condiment, kecap manis, or palm-sugared soy sauce. It’s then grabbed in handfuls, chicken, mutton, and more, and laid evenly over a hot charcoal grill.
Then, magic begins.
Almost done, satay sticks taken off the flame in preparation for service
Skewers start to sizzle and drip, as a blend of sweet-savoury chilli, kecap manis and thick peanut sauce is layered swiftly over each one. All this, as Mohtar expertly does a turn-and-fan routine, one that he’s been doing for most of his life on these streets. You see, it’s on the streets that satay is made.
You want the outdoors to infuse into the meat, flaming sparks to char it well, and charcoal-laced smoke that gives it an extra oomph, something that a conventional stove lacks. Now, this keeps going until Mohtar senses its ready, putting aside his makeshift fan. Finally, the sticks are plated with fresh onions, hot fried shallots and a dash of lime to balance it all out.
Spreading more kecap manis over satay, Indonesia's dark palm-sugared glaze
Its taste? The moreish skewers are chunky but tender, topped with a heaping spoon of crunchy smashed peanut sauce. It's then made even better with onions’ clean juices and a lingering limey citrus. For those unacquainted with Indonesian satay, it’s unlike those in other parts of Southeast Asia. More on the region’s satay variations below.
But it didn't begin easy. For the first six years, he would push his satay cart around Jakarta through long, hard days.
Now, you can find him at a space next to the elementary school at Sambas Park, where long queues form over his skewered delights. That’s despite it being not easily found- it’s away from the main street in a housing complex. Well, come 4pm when Sate Sambas opens, you might find yourself in one. And on some days, the line doesn’t stop until midnight.
A plate of Sate Sambas widely-loved satays, the charcoal-grilled meat skewers are topped with deep-fried shallots, peanut sauce, onions and rice
Hours: Open Everyday, 4pm - 12am
In Malaysia, chicken satay is the most popular meat, but there’s also mutton and beef. It’s typically served with shallots, cucumber (after all the heavy eating), and a sweet-spicy satay sauce. The recipe varies with each stall, especially between the Chinese and Malays. The meat sticks are not served alone though, Ketupat (rice wrapped in a weaved banana leaf) is usually eaten together with it.
Like it spicy? Here’s where the red hot sambal dip comes in perfectly.
Satay in Singapore is influenced by its Malaysian roots. The key difference is pineapples, serving as a citrusy kick after the addictive amount of thick sweet sticks. You may ask for more pineapple and cucumber, some like to eat them after to clean their palette, others like to do it after each stick.
Other parts of the region that snack on these moreish meat sticks include the Philippines and Thailand.
Over in Thailand, the grilled skewers that are much chunkier, and best eaten with white rice as a meal. Pork and chicken are the common meats. The glaze is different, it’s not spicy or overly sweet but leans towards a teriyaki-soy type brown coat over the sticks.
And in the Philippines, it’s a type of breakfast food in the South. Known as Satti there, you have it either chicken or beef, in a soup with peanut sauce. The rest of the country simply calls it Barbecue, and skewers are marinated in an incredibly sweet banana ketchup sauce.
Compare all these with Indonesia, and you'll find that it has more in common with Malaysia and Singapore. Here, sate ayam or chicken satay is the most common form of satay, served with Ketupat, or compressed rice cakes. Kecap manis is drizzled over the skewers with a spicy peanut sauce, fried shallots and cucumber. Then, countless variations start.
A list of some:
Sate Kambing- Goat skewers
Sate Madura- from Madura, the Indonesian island off Java. It’s served with a black sauce made from kecap manis, palm sugar and herbs and spices.
Sate Buntel- from the heart of Java, made with minced meat (usually beef)
Sate Babi- widely eaten among the Chinese community in Indonesia
Sate Lilit- a Balinese delicacy with chunkier meat sticks
Sate Padang- made from offal (innards) cuts. The Sumatra specialty features cow’s tongue, grilled in a rendang-like, spiced curry sauce.
And that’s just the few.