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What is Satay?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Satay is a shish kebab style dish that has long been popular in Indonesia and Thailand. It is most frequently associated with Thai food, where it is made from cubes of beef, chicken, or lamb, and may be dipped in a traditional peanut relish or sauce. Food historians are not certain if satay was first introduced in Indonesia or in Southeast Asia. Regardless of origin, both Thai and Indonesian variations are praised by fans as quite delicious dishes.

Indonesian satay has several popular variants. Satay Madura is one of the best known and most popular. It usually uses lamb or chicken, marinated in sugar, green onions, soy sauce and salt. The bits of marinated meat are then skewered and quickly grilled. Traditional accompaniments include curry and basmati rice.

Other variants of Indonesian satay make use of beef, which is finely chopped and pressed together into a paste or ball, which is then skewered and grilled. Indonesian versions often use the organs of animals or turtle meat. Someone new to the dish may find that these variations taste somewhat unusual.

Thai satay may also use meats most US diners do not consume regularly. Some popular varieties include those made from goat. Some dishes from both Thailand and Indonesia marinate and cook only the skin of the animal, which is valued for its crunchiness when cooked.

Often, excellent satay is not purchased in restaurants but directly from food stalls, which are found in abundance in places like Singapore. If a consumer is ask about the meat, and is familiar with the language, he or she can inquire about the meat’s origins.

Satay is popular in several European countries. Holland is particularly known for its excellent offerings, since Holland occupied parts of Indonesia from the 17th through the early 19th century. Netherlanders brought home this fabulous dish, and many other Indonesian specialties, which has influenced Holland’s cuisine to this day.

Diners can easily find Thai satay in virtually any Thai restaurant. Major cities throughout Europe and the US may have a few Indonesian restaurants offering the dish as well, although these are less common and often less popular than Thai food.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon986018 — On Jan 22, 2015

A truly excellent observation there! The Satay was invented by the Chinese! and even though their language is filled with rolling R's and intricate pronunciation, some people never could pronounce it properly and thus, it evolved into what it is today. Just like Rendang is of Chinese origins as well. Rendang was originally from Guangdong, first cooked in the royal kitchen for His Majesty Ren Duong's victory banquet. It was dubbed Meat ala Ren Duong. But, somehow, people inadvertently changed the name to Rendang, and they also laid claim to thus royal dish.

Another dish that we cannot forget would be the Lontong! And let's not forget Kuah Lodeh, which is fron Nanjing. The humble Gado-gado (which in Chinese means rice cakes topped with blanched vegetables smothered with peanut sauce, or in its Chinese name: Guado-Guado. It was a daily staple of the Chinese Imperial army who were stationed along the Chinese-Mongolian border.

Oh, let's not leave out Nasi Lomak (which has been changed it to Nasi Lemak) Opor Ayam, originally from northwest, China was brought to the Malay Archipelago by the these travelers. Mee Lobot (which has evolved to Mee Rebus) is also of Chinese origins.

By anon942723 — On Mar 29, 2014

Satay is from Java, Indonesia. It's an adaptation of the Middle Eastern kebab introduced by Arab traders. Check the picture of a satay seller in Java in 1870 online. If it is from Thailand, somebody should upload photos of a Thai satay seller from the same year or much better, from long before!

By anon325413 — On Mar 16, 2013

Satay doesn't come from Chinese (actually hokkien) word. That's a very weak and disputed theory, merely a conjecture without historical basis, but I admit is a very popular story among the Chinese.

In reality, satay is almost always never served in stacks of three pieces of meat; that's just stingy. Other varieties of satay don't look like the typical satay at all. Look up satay pictures and you'll know what I mean. Satay is most likely influenced by kebabs from India or the Middle East, but the recipe of the marinade and sauce are unique and original to the archipelago. The tendency for sweetness in it's flavor is typical of Javanese dishes.

By truman12 — On Oct 29, 2012

I have a great satay marinade that combines soy, ginger, garlic, and lime juice. It is strong with out being overwhelming and it compliments both beef and chicken beautifully.

By vigilant — On Oct 28, 2012

Can you make satay with any kind of meat?

By Ivan83 — On Oct 27, 2012

We served Thai food at our wedding and we had tons of chicken satay. I know that it sounds a little out of the ordinary, but who doesn't love Thai food?

Plus, the chicken satay was a real crowd pleaser. It is not as heavy as a lot of the meals that get served at weddings and it works well on a buffet line.

By anon199118 — On Jul 22, 2011

Satay originated from Indonesia and Malay. It was not invented by the chinese.

By anon163463 — On Mar 28, 2011

satay is a Chinese hokkien word for three pieces. 'Sa' is 3. 'Tay' is piece. --hMx

By anon132028 — On Dec 05, 2010

Satay originated from Straits Chinese. I don't know if it is from Singapore or Malaysia but I am certain it is chinese who invented satay?

And not Indonesia at all? come on, because history said malaysia was part of Indonesia

{Srivijaya empire 7-13C} then the british came and until now many javanese, batik, medan and other Indonesian descendants are there and cook many Indonesian foods like Sate/Bakso.

But still i think Sate are Arab {kebab} since Arabs are the biggest traders in Indonesia {since fifteenth century} but since peanuts are a common thing in Indonesia, we use that, but of course words like "sa teh" used by chinese since in Indonesia. chinese are usually restaurant owners in dutch colonial times.

By anon108778 — On Sep 04, 2010

Meat on sticks is a tradition of nomadic people who raised sheep or cattle and who had to cook on the go. It would logical to conclude satay did not originate from the Chinese or even the Malay archipelago where people practiced permanent agriculture and meat was not a common thing to have (expensive).

Seriously, I can't see the Chinese coming up with satay. It is totally out of character for their cuisine.

Satay probably originated in central asia which then found its way into Arabic cuisine who then brought it to Southeast Asia. Since metal is an expensive material, the local people innovated by using the stem of the coconut leaf as the stick on which on place the meat - much cheaper, more abundant and disposable.

By anon53700 — On Nov 23, 2009

The word Satay means "Triple Stacked" thus satay will most often contain three strips or cubes of meat.

The origins of satay began in Indonesia and may have been influenced by Chinese immigrants or Arabian Kebabs. While this is debated, the Arabian influence fits into the time that during the 19th century that many Arabs started relocating to Indonesia. The most common protein used(Lamb) also are less common in China but are favored by Arabs.

By anon13257 — On May 23, 2008

Satay originated from Straits Chinese. I don't know if it is from Singapore or Malaysia but I am certain it is chinese who invented satay.

OK, what is satay? The original satay consist of 3 pcs of meat in each stick. And in the past people use to order by referring it to "sa teh". Which mean 3 pcs. The malay which can't pronounce it properly later simplified it to Satay and started selling it as it is simple to make and delicious.

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Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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