Never make outrageous boasts you can never take back. For months I’d been talking about Lau Pa Sat and Boon Tat Street, the famous old market and adjacent road in Singapore where my parents and I always go for our fix of authentic chicken and perut satay. Modelled on the old Satay Club style of casual outdoor alfresco dining, Lau Pa Sat is admittedly a little on the touristy side. However given the highly sanitised quality of things in Singapore, there is something charmingly old fashioned about the stalls on the closed street that makes it a ‘must do’ whenever I’m in town.
As a child chicken satay was, along with wonton noodles, my favourite food. My appetite for satay is almost legendary in my family, and even then downing 20 sticks in quick succession was fairly commonplace. And I’m single-minded in my dining experience – no additional dishes, no ketupat (rice cakes) to fill me up, and definitely none of the thickly slices cucumber or onion. This is a purely sweet,protein-oriented meal, with only the delicious peanut sauce for accompaniment and maybe a drink of Grape Fanta if it’s available.
When I was here two years ago, I’d equalled my record of 30 sticks set in 2009. For months I boasted that this time, 30 would be insufficient. This time I’d be eating 50 sticks. For those familiar with the size of satay in Australia, it is worth noting that authentic satay sticks in Singapore and Malaysia are much smaller, however 50 sticks is still an outrageously gluttonous amount of food to eat, and though I kept an air of confidence as we arrived at our table in the cool (for Singapore) night air, I had serious doubts that my bold claim was achievable, or even advisable. Still, this is the Ministry of Gluttony so at the very least I had to try.
Since we’d had the Raffles High Tea as our late lunch, we headed out around 8:30pm. When we arrived at Lau Pa Sat with Uncle Vince and my Godma, Alissa and I had flashbacks to India as the Malaysian Satay Men touted their products, escorted you to tables to pressure you into going with their store and generally overselling in a manner that is quite off-putting. As it turned out the tout who we initially spoke to worked for the stall my parents usually go to – Stall 6 - though it looks as if all the stalls in Lau Pa Sat have been progressively taken over by two sellers, forming something of a duopoly. Stall 6 was now run by Power Satay, who also run an additional two or three stalls.
Wanting to be sure that the quality standards were still high, we ordered a test plate of 20 sticks to begin with, a mix of chicken and perut. At $0.60 SGD a stick, it was an inexpensive test of quality. When it arrived and I ate my first sticks, I knew this was definitely good satay.
‘This is very nice!’ exclaimed Uncle Vince in an authoritative tone, seconding my feeling that we’d gone to the right stall. The chicken satay was sweet and tender as it’s meant to be, with that flavour that can only come from having been cooked over coals. In Australia, supermarket satay is too often dry breast meat without the sugary glaze for sweetness and then baked in an oven instead. Being the intestines of a cow, perut may not be appetising to a lot of people. I’m a firm believer in nose to tail eating, and if you’re gonna be a meat eater you might as well go the whole hog, so to speak. Perut in satay form is probably one of the most accessible ways of eating intestines, as its collagen-rich chewiness combined with the cooking method makes it my second favourite meat for satay. Trust me, skip beef satay or any of the other wild modern variations like duck and prawn. Chicken and Perut are the way to go. This is the way satay should be done, with a wonderfully nutty, and coursely ground extra crunchy peanut sauce. I created a pile of sticks for my tally as we polished off the plate.
Godma went to order other dishes and Alissa got a drink. My strategy to eat more meant I had to be really disciplined and focused, hence no drinks to fill me up and no other dishes either. Not wanting Uncle Vince and Godma to front the bill for my extravagant eating spree, I bought the next massive round of 40 sticks, being a roughly 60%/40% mix of chicken and perut. I comfortably reached 30 sticks, but by that point was beginning to slow. At 33, we were out of sticks so I had to go make another order. Perut was proving too filling so it was all chicken this time.
I approached the satay man; ‘20 more chicken, please’
‘Alright!’ he exclaimed with excitement, gleeful for the fact my excessive consumption meant this was gonna be a good night for them business-wise.
A short while later the plate arrived and I dug in. As I approached 40, I began to feel my limit was being reached. My stomach had caught up with the eating and was saying; ‘um... dude, I see what you’re doing, but I think that’s enough’. I pictured Adam Richman of Man vs. Food getting the meat sweats as he reached the Wall - that point when you cannot go any further - and though 50 was probably attainable I decided that 45 was a respectable number to finish on. Alissa, Godma and Uncle Vince helped me finish the leftover, and I reached 45 happy to have gotten so far - a 50% increase on my previous best.
The Verdict: ExcellentThough it was a childhood comfort food, I don’t eat satay very often in Australia due to the disappointing quality – too fat, not sweet enough, lousy peanut sauce and not cooked over coals is not authentic satay. Therefore, satay is right near the top of my list of places to eat when in Singapore and Lau Pa Sat’s quality is right up there with the best of them. It might be a while before I’m back in Singapore for my next satay binge, but at 45 sticks I think I’m well and truly covered for the time being.