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Dec 1, 2010

First Taste of Satay

This photo of the satay stall was contributed to PICAS courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore (NAS). It evokes me fond memories of my first encounter at about 50 years ago and its first taste of satay at the original "Satay Club" in Singapore.

I distinctly remembered it was my elder sister who brought me and her friends to a place I had never visited before. It was located beside a bus terminus and not very well lighted.

There were several "portable" satay stalls which was more crowded than the customers in this photo.

"Portable" means that the mobile stall was carried over the shoulder of the vendor with a wooden bar called "yoke" (in Cantonese), moving from place to place on foot. These "portable" stall was a common hawkers in the 1950s in Singapore.

There were 4 or 5 low wooden stools and 2 short benches. The simply constructed wooden boxes served as tables; one with a stove (mostly handmade with empty kerosene tins), sticks of uncooked satay, pieces of cucumber, onion.

Another item which goes with satay is rice cakes (ketupat) at 20 cents each, which taste great with peanut sauce.

The meat is marinated and grilled over charcoal for the best flavor. Satay is always accompanied by delicious peanut, chilli sauce. In those days, each stick costs 10 cents.

On each table was a big pot which customers dip into the gravy for everyone to share.

With every bite of each stick of satay into a mouthwater of gravy, the customers' add to the community pot of gravy for sharing and recycling. The pot of gravy would be refilled when empty. It was finger-licking goodness...using tongue and dripping with saliva from their mouth too.

I could not remember the taste of the satay, which I had forgotten after so many years ago. But the first experience at the original "Satay Club" at Beach Road, Singapore behind the Alhambra Cinema (which I learnt when I grew older). However, the place, the time, and the childhood experience of the journey is unforgettable.
Alhambra Cinema  c  1950

Alhambra Cinema was formerly located at the junction of Beach Road and Middle Road, next to the former Marlborough Cinema, another landmark building in the area. It was was nicknamed Hai Kee ("by the sea" in Hainanese) due to its proximity to the sea.

The Alhambra Cinema's location of the same place at Beach Road is the present day Shaw Tower on Beach Road in the 1970s.

Different time and a different journey of a personal experience...

The "Then" photos are in black and white while the colored photos are shown as the "Satay Club" on the Esplanade.

Do you remember?

Please share your fond memories of your first taste of satay too!

A group of young children enjoying satay at a portable stall in 1900.

Satay portable stall in Chinatown c 1970.

Original "Satay Club" in 1940s and before

In the background, it is noticed as the bus terminus of the former "Tay Koh Yat" bus company.

And "Then" at "Satay Club" at Esplanade in the 1970s

Now...the former "Satay Club" was demolished in the 1995s and the location was replaced by Esplanade - The Theatres on the Bay.

The Wondering Wanderer posted this to my Facebook profile page to share his childhood days satay experiences here:

I actually was old enough to have the experience sitting on the low stools and having satay piled on the plate at the centre of the table at Beach Road. One of my friends, a very mischievous boy, would discard some of the lidi sticks under the table more out of fear that his parents would discover how much he had consumed than to cheat the satay seller.



Blogger PChew said...

James, I have to point out that in those days the satay men provided 2pots of gravy as shown in the pictures. One pot had spicy gravy and the other not so spicy gravy.

December 2, 2010 at 2:34 PM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Thanks Philip. The omitted details on this blog is mentioned here for correction.

Comments and feedback much appreciated. Thanks to everyone.

December 2, 2010 at 4:46 PM  
Blogger Lam Chun See said...

I think this is one of those things that hasn't changed much over the years. I remember bringing a Japanese visitor to Satay Club in the 80's and he had a great time.

In my kampong we too had a satay vendor like those in your photos. But he was Chinese and of course we had pork satay as well. What I liked most was his gravy. He added some ground pineapple gravy ... Yummy! Shiok!

Do you know that nowadays the most of the satay sticks are mass-produced in a factory? A few years ago, we had a client who ran such a factory.

Hope you don't mind if I point out a small error in your second sentence. "It invokes me fond memories of my first encounter at about 50 years ago ...". Correct word should be 'evoke'. Yes your photos evoked much fond memories for me too. Thanks.

I think that wooden bar the vendor used for carrying his loads is called Yoke (not to be confused with egg yolk). In Hokkien is it call 'tam pui' or 'tam tui' or something like that?

December 2, 2010 at 7:13 PM  
Blogger ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Have a good friend who's rich now selling satay at the Rex Cinema from the 60s.

Satay Club has its clientele of band boys who flock the place after a gig.

December 3, 2010 at 10:51 AM  
Blogger Thimbuktu said...

Thanks Chun See.

Your Japanese friends' experience with Singapore's multi-(food)culture must have found it interesting to experiment a variety of Singaporean local and intercontinental food. Its a tourist glorious food haven attraction.

My friend once told me an anecdote about Singaporean Malay and Chinese Satay.

The Chinese satay was originated by the Hainanese, as I was told.

As the story goes:

The Hainanese chef asked his Malay neighbor:

"What do you call this stick of meat grilled over the charcoal fire and dipped into a chilly mixed with finely grounded peanut gravy...very shiok!"

His Malay neighbor said:

"This is a secret. But since we are Singaporeans, we can share.

This is called a "satay".

For each stick, you cut 2 pieces of small raw meat and 1 piece of flesh. The flesh is inserted between the 2pieces of lean meat (uncooked).

"Oh, so this is called a "sah teh" (means 3 pieces in Hainanese). So "satay" is the sounds alike (homonymn) in Malay and Hainanese!

The ingredient and method of preparation is about similar for both versions. The Chinese satay included grounded pineapple gravy as a dish supplement though.

Nowadays, Malay satay with pineapple sauce as an option in Singapore too. We learn from one another in international recipes. "One People. Many Food".

Malay "satay" is halal and our foreign friends must understand and respect Muslim and Singapore "culture (food or otherwise) shock".

Originally, each stick of satay is placed above the improvised wire netting and stove to grill over charcoal and fire until cooked, not burnt.

Apply cooking oil with a small brush on the satay liberally as required. A hand-held straw fan is used to fan the fire. (Check out the photos).

That's the history of the Chinese version of "sah teh" according to great grandfather story...

Oops...the word in the blog should be "evoke" as you pointed out correctly. My fingers on the keyboard was typed faster than my thoughts. Sorry for my "thinkpo", not "typo" error.

Thank you for the grammar check, Chun See. I've edited the blog as corrected.


December 4, 2010 at 11:28 AM  
Blogger Dogcom said...

Hi James I followed your link on FB - On a little street in Singapore.

Do you guys remember at the old Satay Club at Esplanade the Satays were served "free flow". At the end of the meal the sticks (consumed) are counted and customers are charged accordingly. I heard stories of cheating customers who will throw away consumed sticks and pay less than what's actually consumed.

Heather Lewis mentioned the recycling of gravy from left overs. This is the truth. It is something that is horrifying in today's context but back then part and parcel of the hawker's hygiene standard. The used Satay sticks gets recycled too!

You mentioned taking Japanese visitor there. I remember once a Japanese friend took Chengdol there. After which he suffered 3 days as a result of a bad tummy.

July 26, 2011 at 2:30 PM  

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