Indonesian street food : Sate ayam (chicken satay)


You can’t go very far without seeing the smoke of the sate seller in In Indonesia. Sate is everywhere, on every street corner a man, or woman will be busy cooking the skewered meat over hot coals and incessantly fanning to keep the heat high and the fat spitting.

Westernised satay, to use its alternative spelling is nothing compared to the rich flavours and tastes of Indonesian sate, the depth, spiciness and smokey flavours are intense and moreish.

Traditional sate is full of big hitting flavours including both a sauce and a marinade.

Sate ayam

Sate ayam

The marinade, is generally made with a combination of spices and Indonesian soy. kecap manis is one of two types of soy that appear on almost all Indonesian warung (a small, simple usually family run restaurant)  tables.

The meat is sliced into slithers, unlike westernised satay which is usually big chunks of breast, or lean meat, Indonesians will use thinner slices of fattier meat.

This ensures that when they are cooked over high heats the meat is flavoured by the fat which renders down and drips onto the coals – creating more smoke, which helps to flavour and cook the meat. The circle of life, illustrated in ‘meat on stick’ terms. The meat has had so much heat and smoke by this point that the cooking process is a combination of both methods.

Sate vendor fanning the sate coals. The green cylinders in the bottom left are lontong.

Sate vendor fanning the coals, the tray shows lontong, too.

Due to having our camera stolen in Indonesia, I don’t have any original images from our eating adventures. Images here are used under a creative commons license via Flickr. These image has not been altered and you can view the original at the following links – Thanks,Gary Romanuk

The meat is served with a deep, spicy sauce. I once worked with a chef whose idea of satay sauce was blending coconut milk and peanuts together, I recall my complaints meant that he added a few dry chilli flakes and pressed the blitz button again. This is not satay.

The sauce will contain heaps of flavours and spices, lemongrass, garlic, coriander seed have all been noted in previous grazing tests, mixed with peanuts, sugar and shallots. The best Indonesian satay we had in Probolinggo, (at least something good came out of that town) the vendor chucked in a huge spoonful of sambal too. Amazing.

The meat doesn’t have to be chicken, it can be lamb, beef or pork and in Bali they have a type of sate (which is really just a word to define the skewer, not the meat) which is minced fish, often tuna and lemongrass moulded onto skewers called sate lilit bakar. This satay is not exclusive to fish, it just means that the meat has been ground and remoulded to a skewer. I’ve also read about, but not seen lemongrass being used in place of the skewer. This is also commonplace in central Vietnam for the dish nem lui.

Bakar, coincidentally is a good word to know when you’re looking at hawker stalls as it mean grilled, as opposed to goreng which is fried.

The skewers are often served from street vendors in a banana leaf with sliced up lontong – a type of compressed rice which is wrapped in banana leaf and boiled – and smothered in sauce. Satay is also a regular component of the popular Indonesian dish nasi campur.

expect to pay around 10 -15’000Rupiah for a serving (around ten sticks)

Phrases worth knowing
 – One
Dua – Two
Tiga – Three
Hello  – Hello
Apa kabar – are you well/ how are you?
salamat pagi – good morning
Salamt tingal – goodbye
silakan (see luh kan) – please
Terima kasih –  Thank you (people may respond with ‘sama sama’ which means’ you’re welcome)
berapa harga – how much?
tidak pedas – no chilli
bungkus – Take away
Tidak – No
Ya – yes
Maaf – sorry


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