Don’t fictionalise it

“Sometimes, after one receives a tip-off that ‘satay’ or ‘Snar Tay’ meaning ‘thee pieces’ in Hokkien , you do not need to fictionalise it with Zhenghe to give it weight. It can stand on its own. And it stretches way back before Zhenghe because Bukit Cina was there long before ‘Paramscura’ or who we commonly addressed him as Parameswara gave Malacca a name.

Yes, many says that Satay is from Indonesia but so are ‘bak mee’ and ‘bak pniar’ which in Hokkien means Pork Mee or Pork biscuit respectively. Also the word ‘hantu’ in Malay used to describe ‘ghost’ which in Hokkien really means ‘seldom meet’. Which is true. One ‘seldom meets’ a ghost. Tell me what does satay as a word or hantu means in bahasa melayu or Indonesia?

As a Hokkien, when we use the word ‘Bak’ by itself, we are referring to pork. Unles we call it ‘kay bak’ which means chicken meat or ‘Gu bak’ which means beef. And satay of that era also has skewers of pork intestines grilled the same way and dipped into the same sauce. I tasted that in the 60s at the coffee shops next to Cathay Cinema Penang.

Let’s just call a spade a spade. Don’t fictionalise it to make yourself feel good about it“

– Kris Lee 2021

Satay from Malacca was created on the spot by the ship cook of Admiral Zheng He.

The satay legend is like this.

When Admiral Zheng He paid a visit to the Port City of Malacca, the Sultan invited the Admiral to his Palace for dinner.

During the dinner, one of the topics discussed was food and the Sultan mentioned that he would like to sample some of the dishes cooked by the Admiral’s chefs.

It so happened that a ship chef was in the Admiral’s entourage and the Admiral asked him to cook up a dish as quickly as possible.

As the chef was unprepared at that time, he didn’t have any cooking utensils with him. He went into the Palace kitchen and saw what he needed.

He cut up some chicken and beef into cubes, marinated them and skewered 3 pieces of meat to each bamboo stick and cooked them over the open fire.

After it was done, the chef presented the dish to the Sultan & the Admiral. Both of them loved the dish so much that they insisted the chef prepare more skewered meats. After consuming them, the Sultan asked what was the name of the dish.

The chef when asked by the Admiral was dumbstruck as he had just concocted this dish. As he spoke only Hokkien and he skewered 3 pieces of meat to each stick, he just said “Sar Tey” meaning 3 pieces in Hokkien. That was how Satay came about.

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