To celebrate the oneness of Malaysia also means to fete its delicious diversity. In this series, we take a closer look at the iconic foods of the country’s states and territories.
Click the link for all the stories in this series on Great Malaysian dishes
Illustration: Foo Chern Hwan
It doesn’t take rocket science to make satay – thread little pieces of marinated meat onto bamboo skewers and grill them over a fire. Yet not everyone gets satay right. Not everyone can make satay as good as they do it in Selangor’s satay town of Kajang.
In Kajang, throw a stone and you are likely to hit a tukang satay. Perhaps it is the keen competition that keeps them sharp and spiffy.
According to locals, satay was brought to Kajang by West Javanese near the end of World War I. In 1917, migrants Tasmin Sakiban and Mohd Noor Darmon started the first satay stall in town. Before them, itinerant satay vendors carried two low tables hung over a yoke on their shoulders. One table held a charcoal stove while the other, a pot of satay sauce. Back then, customers dipped their satay into a common bowl of sauce. Individual bowls of sauce were introduced years later.
Not much is known about Mohd Noor and Tasmin’s first joint venture, though it did spawn the birth of one of Selangor’s most successful satay franchises in 1992. Tasmin’s wife was the aunt of one Datuk Haji Samuri Juraimi, the founder of Sate Kajang Haji Samuri.
Today, there are over 20 Sate Kajang Haji Samuri outlets throughout the Klang Valley – three of them in Kajang. Giving Sate Kajang Haji Samuri a good run for its money are competitors Willy Satay, Satay Station and Nyuk Lan Satay Kajang.
So what makes Selangor’s satay so amazing? Is it the tender and flavourful pieces of perfectly grilled meat or their loyal companion, the peanut sauce?
While the West Javanese prefer lean meat on the skewers, Selangorians love good ol’ chunks of fat when it comes to satay. To them, the fat adds flavour and moistness, so their satay sticks usually have skin and fat wedged in the middle of the meat pieces. They are right, of course – that little piece of fat chars and crisps up, oozing juicy fat that coats the satay with a mist of deliciousness after grilling.
Breast and thigh meat are often used for chicken satay while tenderloin is now a popular choice for beef satay. There are also rabbit, venison, mutton, and duck satay, as well as exotic – but not as popular – offerings such as chicken feet, liver, gizzard, and intestine satay.
Using good meat and the right cut is as important as having a great recipe for the marinade. Every satay master has his own marinade recipe – often found after countless trial and error.
The image of skewers of meat grilling over an open charcoal fire is often associated with satay. The open-flame grilling gives satay its desirable characteristics: smoky with slightly bitter, charred bits to complement the sweet and spicy marinade.
The small cuts of meat are best grilled for seven to eight minutes over a charcoal fire, turned three to four times in the process. At each turn, the meat gets a brushing of the marinade. Sometimes, honey or more sugar is added to the original marinade to give the end product a good char and glaze.
Equally important is the satay sauce. Satay masters may use the same ingredients – peanuts, chilli, shallots, turmeric and so on – in their recipes, but it is their respective “air buah tangan” (their unique touches) that make all the difference.
Many satay outlets in Selangor serve chunky peanut sauce to go with the satay, though there are some who prefer a smooth, creamy sauce. A dollop of sambal is added for customers who want it spicier. There’s where Kajang satay masters make a difference for themselves too – the sambal is served in a separate bowl for you to customise the level of heat in your peanut sauce.
To make satay a meal in itself, there are cuts of compressed rice – nasi impit, cucumber and onion, served on the side.
More dishes from Selangor
An Indian Muslim creation, rojak or pasembur is a fritter salad with characteristics of rojak buah and gado-gado. Shredded cucumber and sengkuang (yam bean) are mixed with chunks of boiled potatoes, fried beancurd, prawn and coconut fritters, boiled egg and cuttlefish sambal. The kicker is the sweet and spicy peanut sauce – like a watered-down, starchy satay sauce. Add noodles and it becomes mee rojak; add fried chicken and it’s mee rojak ayam.
Bak kut teh
The literal translation of this dish is “pork bone tea”. The complex part is the broth, made fragrant and flavourful by herbs and spices like star anise, clove, angelica root and Chinese wolfberries – but every chef has his own secret recipe. Meaty pork ribs and other cuts are slow-cooked in the broth and additional ingredients may include offal, mushrooms, dried bean curd skin and tofu puffs. Best enjoyed with rice, garlic and chilli in soy sauce, and a helping of fried char kway.
Yong tau fu
This Hakka dish gives the best mix of fish, meat, vegetables and tofu. Traditionally, only tofu cubes were stuffed with a paste of fish and pork, and then deep fried or braised. These days, everything can be stuffed – bittergourd, ladies’ fingers, chillies, and brinjals. A variety of fish and meat balls also go into the mix. The dish can be enjoyed on its own or in a clear soup, with chilli sauce and sweet sauce as dips. Flat rice noodles (chee cheong fun) and rice are optional.