Satay sticks and otah are classic Singapore dishes that never fail to disappoint. The succulent beef, chicken, or lamb is marinated in a delicious peanut sauce and can be served with a spicy muar fish otah on the side.
This dish is perfect for any occasion, from picnics in the park to formal dinners at home. But have you ever thought of how satay came to be? In this blog post, we’ll explore more of where one of Singapore’s most beloved dishes came from and all its quirks.
What are the origins of satay?
While some believe that it originated from the Arabic kebab that nomads used to barbeque, others believed it to be influenced by Southeast Asian cooking methods. Although both Malaysia and Thailand claim credit for developing the delicious skewers, satay is also thought to have originated from the Javanese people of Indonesia.
Indonesia remains the country with the most variations, but you can find unique versions of the skewered meat all across Southeast Asia including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei, and the Philippines.
Is satay influenced by the Arabs or the Javanese?
A hotly debated topic, there are several schools of thought as to where satay came from. Some say that satay came from the Middle East, where nomadic Arabs would barbeque their meat as what is now known as kebabs.
Others think that satay came from Indonesia. Whether West Sumatra or Java, because of the close proximity to Singapore, cuisine often spread throughout the region with each country developing their own local flavour.
As far as we know, some elements of both theories are true. The earliest documentation of skewered meat is attributed to ancient Mesopotamia, and spread across the Middle East. The Afghans then brought the dish to India. When the conquering Mongols reached the Middle East in the 12th century, they brought the dish to China. Satay then reached Indonesia around the 1,400s from the Arabs, Indians, and possibly Chinese.
How did satay become a Singapore favourite?
In the 19th century, people were starting to move around Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. They came seeking jobs as labourers in plantations and tradesmen.
With them came satay sticks, historically sold on push carts, makeshift roadside stalls or two baskets held up by a bamboo pole and carried on the shoulder.
Today, satay is so much a part of Singapore culture that you would be hard-pressed to find a hawker centre that doesn’t sell it!
The must-have peanut sauce
Every Singaporean knows that what makes the satay is the peanut sauce. It makes or breaks the dish.
Satay peanut sauce is made of ground peanuts, coconut milk, garlic, ginger, and chilies. Not only do you dunk delicious skewers of succulent meat in the sauce, you also can dunk ketupat (rice cake), cucumber, and anything you want.
Otah and satay: the perfect combination
Another one of Singapore’s favourites, pair spicy otah with mouthwatering satay and you have the perfect snack food. Otah is a savory fish cake that is made from minced fish, a mix of herbs and spices, and grilled in a banana leaf wrapper.
The combination of spices in the satay peanut sauce and the fishy taste of the otah compliments each other well. Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that satay and otah are a delicious combination!
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