Made by grilling morsels of skewered meat over charcoal flames, the Singapore satay remains a well-loved street snack that has withstood the test of time.
Typically marinated with lemongrass, turmeric and ginger, the meat is cut up into bite-sized cubes, threaded on thin bamboo sticks, and eaten dipped in a bowl of piquant peanut sauce. A side of ketupat (rice cakes), sliced cucumbers and onions usually accompany the dish.
Till the late 1970s, the Travelling Satay Man was a common sight in our pre-modernised island. Pedalling push-carts with mobile charcoal stoves, they would buzz around different neighbourhoods selling satays cooked on the back of their bicycles. However, regulations against illegal food hawkers have left the Travelling Satay Men behind in a nostalgic distant past. After repeated fines from the authorities, Mr Ang Boon Ee, the last standing satay man in Singapore, finally retired his rickety wooden push-cart in 2015.
Today, satay stalls can be found selling 2 main styles of satay at hawker centres: the Malay style or the Hainanese style. Chicken, beef, mutton and lamb is usually used in the Malay style, while pork is also available for the Hainanese style. Cooking methods also differ as Hainanese satays are grilled for a longer duration over a low fire, while the Malay technique involves furious flames and a shorter cooking time. For the Hainanese style, a topping of pineapple puree is sometimes added to the peanut sauce for a dash of tangy acidity.
Without further ado, let us introduce the 5 best places in Singapore where you can nibble on this local delicacy!
1. Lau Pa Sat Satay Street (Halal)
Situated behind the iconic Lau Pa Sat (look for a Victorian cast-iron architecture located in the heart of the CBD), Boon Tat Street changes come 6.30pm every evening. The stretch starts buzzing with energy as staff from various satay stalls start dragging chairs and tables out onto the road, while the evening air thickens with the fragrance of BBQ-ed meat. Housing more than 10 different satay stalls, Singapore’s Satay Street offers a variety of styles ranging from grilled prawns, duck satay and beef tripe to satay dishes with a curry kick. It’s a fascinating place to visit if you want an authentic alfresco street food experience reminiscent of the famed Satay Club at Esplanade back in the 70s. Competition is stiff, so be prepared to have menus shoved in your faces by over-enthusiastic staff.
Must-tries: Curry satay from stalls 3/4, duck satay, mutton satay and beef tripe from stall 6, prawn satay from stalls 7/8
Address: 18 Raffles Quay, S048582
2. Haron 30 Satay (Halal)
This legendary satay stall has been dishing out authentic satay and chicken wings at East Coast Lagoon Food Village for more than 4 decades. Founded by famed hawker master Mr Haron Abu Bakar, this family-run business was named Singapore Hawker Master in the 2011 Satay category, picked as a top choice in The Business Times Hawker Food Series, and also emerged as a favourite during a poll by Berita Harian. Mr Haron passed away in 2016, and today, his 2 daughters run the stall. Choose from generous portions of tender and moist chicken, mutton or beef sticks, served with a bowl of spicy, chunky peanut sauce. Marinades, recipes, cooking methods and snaking queues remain uncompromising over the years.
Must-tries: Chicken and mutton satay
Address: 1220 East Coast Parkway, S468960
Situated in Old Airport Food Centre, Chuan Kee is often recommended by food review websites. It offers pork, chicken and mutton satay cooked in traditional Hainanese style. Started in the 1970s, the stall’s succulent pork satay is the star of its business. Its rich, spicy peanut sauce is a variant of the traditional peanut sauce and comes with grated pineapple. The owners are diligent in keeping to the conventional Hainanese cooking methods, and will patiently grill the satay over low fire until the satay comes out perfectly charred and smoky. Expect long queues.
Must-tries: Pork satay, peanut sauce
Address: #01-85, 51 Old Airport Rd, S390051
4. Fu Dao Homemade Satay (Non-Halal)
Also located at Old Airport Food Centre, Fu Dao offers a unique rendition of the traditional satay – the black pepper flavoured satay. Lines at this stall are long – a testament to its goodness. If you aren’t a fan of black pepper, try their standard pork and chicken offerings. Slightly honeyed and tender, each stick is worth every calorie.
Must-tries: Black pepper satay
Address: 51 Old Airport Road #01-97 Old Airport Road Food Centre, S390051
5. Kwong Satay (Non-Halal)
Located in Geylang, Kwong Satay traces its roots to the Travelling Satay Men of the 1960s. Featured on Mediacorp’s food programme “Yummy King” and in The Straits Times, Kwong Satay puts a spin on the traditional satay – succulent pork belly and pork loin marinated with saffron, cumin and coriander. Peranakan-inspired, their satay sauce comes with pineapple puree, while their ketupat is wrapped in Pandan leaves.
Must-tries: Pork loin and pork belly satay
Address: 549 Geylang Rd, S389504