How to Order Satay in Indonesia

Many countries have their own versions of satay — shashlik throughout the former Soviet Union, kebabs, brochetas — or in Indonesian, sate. Though in each country you will find different proteins awaiting their grilled fates — chicken, beef, lamb, pork are the four most common — to me it’s the spices and condiments with which satay is prepared and served that distinguish the meal. For instance, Azerbaijan has a pomegranate molasses called narsharab, Lebanon toum, or whipped garlic sauce, and Japan, its soy sauce and mirin mixture.

However, in Indonesia, the most popular is bumbu kacang, a sweetened peanut sauce. In second place would be a savory, turmeric-based glop used in sate Padang, named for a city in Sumatra.

With the backgrounder out of the way, let’s say you’re walking by the street stalls of Jakarta or Bali and come across a sate kaki lima (street vendor, but meaning “five legs”). Here’s a primer (with a video to boot) for how to customize and order your desired plate of satay.

indonesian satay street food
Chicken, Beef, and Lamb Satay, at Nurshabat Street Stall in Bali, Indonesia

-sate ayam (chicken)
-sate babi (pork)
-sate daging (beef, but it also means meat)
-sate kambing (lamb)

Now, if you want the sate as is — you know, with all the fat and cartilage — you can utter satu porsi sate ___makasih (one portion of ___ satay, thanks!).
And if you want just the meat? Try daging aja, and add a tanpa lemak for good measure. That means “just the meat,” and “without the fat.” Tanpa = without.

Want a mix of the different proteins? Say campur campur (“cham-pur cham-pur”). Campur means mix, so you can use it for fruit shakes, sambal (hot sauces), whatever you fancy.

At some point, the vendor might ask berapa tusuk? (how many skewers?) n.b. tusuk gigi means toothpick, quite a useful invention once you’re done gnawing away at the skewers.

I hope that this Indonesian satay primer will help you in your travels!


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