The Flavors of Satay

Chicken satay cooking over fire in Kajang, Malaysia - featured on

The charred, spicy smoke that billows through night markets in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and through much of Southeast Asia, clouding your vision and burning your nose, is from exactly what your senses are screaming at you – Satay!

Chicken satay grilling in Kajang, Malaysia - featured on

Satay, those tasty little chicken pieces (or beef or pork or lamb or shrimp or any meat for that matter), marinated with a secret blend of spices, then skewered with bamboo sticks, grilled over a charcoal fire, and served with a rich, spicy dipping sauce.

Satay street stall in Bangkok, Thailand

Where did all this fun begin?  Where did satay originate?

As with many dishes in Southeast Asia, the question of satay’s origin is invariably answered in a haze of nationalistic pride.  But clear the smoke – the convoluted, disputed evidence – and what remains is...irrelevant.

On Season with Spice, we have theorized many times over about the origins of Asian dishes – such as Penang Asam Laksa, Pad Thai, and Kapitan Chicken Curry – but satay is different.  It’s meat on a stick, grilled over charcoal.  That was patent #2.  After how to start a fire.

Thai satay on streets of Bangkok

We could discuss the history of the kebab in the Middle East, and its likely influence on satay.  The history of the Spice Route, the spread of Islam and European colonialism.  All important factors in the development of Southeast Asian cuisine, especially in the kingdom of Siam (now Thailand), the sultanates of Malacca and Kedah (now states in Malaysia), and kingdoms throughout Java, Bali, and Sumatra (now Indonesian islands).

But to make conclusions on the origin of satay is to disregard its infinite variations.  Because if you get right down to it, the only origin that truly matters is which side of the street you’re standing on.  Which young guy you’re watching breathe in smoke off the grill like it’s oxygen, fanning the charcoal with a rattan fan, brushing the chicken with palm oil, and flipping so many sticks at once you almost believe he has ten fingers on one hand.

In Southeast Asia, every street stall satay has a different flavor, and an original story.

Satay stall in Bangkok, Thailand

Indonesia is home to the widest selection of satay.  Not a surprising fact given Indonesia is made up of thousands of islands and just as many cultures.  One of the most popular versions is Satay Madura – a satay known for its sweeter taste from the addition of Kecap Manis (a soy sauce sweetened with palm sugar).

In Thailand, satay takes on a rich, pungent flavor with the inclusion of two favorite local ingredients – coconut milk & fish sauce.

Satay seller in Bangkok, Thailand

Satay in Malaysia varies throughout the country, but the most famous is found in Kajang, a town near Kuala Lumpur, where the satay is meatier, more flavorful, and is served with an absolutely delectable peanut sauce.

Famous Kajang Malaysia chicken satay with peanut sauce, featured on

Satay stalls in Kajang, Malaysia

You can find versions of satay in every Southeast Asian country.  Not a helpful fact when you’re trying to figure out how to make one satay marinade at home.

That led us to develop a handcrafted satay seasoning that we could offer you on Season with Spice.

A satay marinade will generally be made with a mix of fresh and dry spices, but to make preparation easier, we created our Malaysian Satay Seasoning from a blend of all dry spices inspired from a family recipe.

Malaysian Satay Seasoning on

Our Malaysian Satay Seasoning is rich in turmeric, coriander, ginger, and cumin.  These core spices are blended with the essential base ingredients of many Malaysian dishes - garlic & shallots.  Then dashes of fennel and galangal are mixed in to build a deeper flavor, just a hint of cayenne for some flare, and finally lemongrass for a citrusy reminder that this is a true Southeast Asian seasoning.

Malaysian Chicken Satay recipe by

Our Malaysian Satay Seasoning is best on chicken, but also try it on beef, pork, or shrimp.

We will feature a Chicken Satay recipe in our next post using our new seasoning, so check back in two days to learn more.

Shop malaysian satay seasoning, tandoori seasoning and penang chinese five spice available at season with spice asian spice shop