Sate is to Indonesia what fried chicken is to Kentucky. Or what fish and chips are to the UK. Or kimchi to Korea.
This delicious, savoury snack can be found everywhere in Southeast Asia, but Indonesia may possibly lay claim to the best of the best. Believe it or not, sate comes in all sizes, shapes, and forms – something the beginner sate eater may not be aware of.
If you’re trying to reach a new level of sate, we’ve got the guide for you.
Submitted by: Meredith Peng
1) The Basics: Sate Ayam
This is your classic, go-to sate. When people mention sate, they are usually talking about chicken sate with peanut sauce. Here, we tried this classic dish at Sate Khas Senayan, one of Indonesia’s oldest and most well-known chain restaurants. The meat is quite lean, and chicken chunks are generous. Meanwhile, the peanut sauce used here is quite smooth and creamy with small chunks of onion scattered in the mix. It’s a bit different from street sate, where the peanut sauce is often chunkier. A small dollop of sambal is served on the side if you’d like some extra heat.
2) The Remix: Sate Lilit
If you’re more adventurous, you can go for sate lilit, which is ground meat grilled on a lemongrass stalk. The lemongrass flavour basically infuses with the meat, giving it a fresher flavour. Disappointingly, Sate Khas Senayan uses a wooden stick rather than lemongrass, making for a very average lilit experience. However, if you’re lucky and can find a more legit version, snag a few sticks and see for yourself.
3) Magic Sate: Sate Taichan
For those who prefer a lighter sate experience, try sate taichan. It’s sour and salty with a spicy kick, thanks to the fresh lime juice squeezed over the skewers and the sambal often served on the side. The flavour is definitely cleaner and brighter than your average sate dripping in peanut sauce. You can order some special salt dip on the side to further enhance the flavour.
There is a myth surrounding sate taichan; apparently, taichan vendors use tuyul (a mythical creature) to pee on the sate and make it taste good. Even worse, if you don’t take a bath after eating taichan, the tuyul will “stick” with you.
This would probably scare me away for sate taichan for a long time… if it wasn’t so darn tasty.
4) Going Minangkabau: Sate Padang
Mmmm, sate Padang. This beef sate has a deeper, richer, and more full-bodied flavour than the others. It’s for sure Padang food, given its spiciness. The sauce is thick, akin to curry or stew. Since it’s beef, it’s a bit chewier than your average sate ayam, but the sauce helps soften things down. In a nutshell, eating this was like a discount beef bourguignon experience – on a stick.
5) GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) Sate: Sate Kambing
The sate kambing at Sate Ayam & Kambing RSPP is hands down the best sate kambing I’ve ever tasted. Portions here are quite large; I ordered the five-piece sate and it was still super filling. It’s a bit more expensive than your average street sate (20k for five, 40k for ten), but it’s so worth it. The meat is not too gamey, but still a bit chewy. Interspersed are chunks of juicy fat that have soaked up the sauce, creating a burst of flavour.
The sauce here uses a kecap manis (sweet black sauce) base mixed with green chilli peppers, chunks of tomato, raw shallots, and fried shallots. The peppers give off just the right amount of heat, while the tomatoes and raw shallots keep things fresh. The fried shallots and kecap flavours keep things savoury and familiar.
It’s the ultimate comfort food experience for those late Indonesian nights in which the sunrise isn’t too far off.
And that about wraps up our beginner’s sate guide. What do you think – did we hit all your favourite types of sate? What other sate should we try? Let us know in the comments below!
Meredith is an all-around New Yorker based in Jakarta, Indonesia. She is an avid pedestrian, which made the transition to Jakarta a little challenging given the lack of sidewalks. In her spare time, she loves travelling to obscure places, having culinary adventures, and photographing street scenes and everyday life.
Follow her on Instagram at @thepengyo and visit her blog at www.thepengyo.com for more travel/food/fashion-related writings!
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