When most Americans think of Satay, they immediately conjure up the image and taste of the tangy peanut sauce that is commonly served with chicken skewers. Although this dish has been around for nearly two centuries, it is only now that its acclaim has reached the palate of customers in the United States. In the process of crossing the Pacific Ocean, the original Indonesian Satay has gone through a wild transformation from its humble beginnings. There is some controversy in the history of the Satay, as both the Malaysian and Indonesian Satay claim to be the first. However, culinary experts that have studied the food patterns of Southeast Asia generally identify the Indonesian Satay as being the first. However, the version that is now available from many American restaurants has more resemblance to the Thai Satay than to the original version of Indonesian Satay.
Because of the geography of Southeast Asia, the food culture was able to spread rapidly through the various countries. There are not great land or ocean barriers that prevent trade or communication between countries, meaning that knowledge about food preparation is easily transmitted to other cultures. The Indonesian Satay is a prime example of this phenomenon. In Indonesia, the dish became quite popular immediately after its introduction. When traders from Siam, Cambodia, and other countries visited Indonesia, the took the recipe for Indonesian Satay home with them. This led to the creation of separate but distinct Satays in all of the nations of the area. Thai Satay has become the most popular with western appetites, as the Thai cuisine has been more accepted in American restaurants. However, many more versions other than Thai Satay exist for consumers to try. Malaysia, Laos, and Vietnam are only a few of the other countries that have developed their signature type of Satay.
The Satay.com website has excellent pages explaining the differences between the various types of Satay. At Satay.com, a person can also find a wealth of recipes so Thai Satay and other regional specialties can be made at home. The main difference with Thai versions and other types are the meat and flavors that are generally used. In the case of the original Indonesian Satay, the flavors used are typically based on soy and local ingredients that are found there. The Thai Satay often features a dipping sauce that is made from peanuts. It is this characteristic taste that has landed the dish as one of the favorite street foods in both Thailand and the United States. While a Satay from Thailand commonly uses chicken as the primary meat, versions from Indonesia and Malaysia use pork more often as the meat is more readily available in these countries. Recipes can be found that highlight all of the various flavors of these countries.