I came to America in 1979 to continue my education in high school. I had a hard time at the very beginning because I missed my grandmother back in Bangkok very much, and I was very homesick. My parents thought that to help me adjust with my new setting it would be a good idea if they could take me to the city- New York City- for Thai food. Come Sunday morning, my dad drove us all into Manhattan's Chinatown. For a while, I enjoyed shopping and mingling among a familiar environment. Chinatown in New York is like Chinatown in Bangkok, except much smaller and more crowded, so everything is magnified, and therefore the place is not as clean. People speak Chinese, just as in Bangkok. I even got to speak Thai with some grocers, whose Thai was very strongly-accented, just like the first generation Chinese in Thailand spoke Thai. I finally got to speak Thai to real Thai people when we stopped for lunch at a small Thai restaurant at the end of the street. It felt so good seeing familiar faces. The owners greeted us with the traditional "wai," the gesture- showing a respectful greeting- in which one brings one's palms together at the middle of the chest, with the elbows alongside the body (never sticking out), and the head bending down until the forehead meets the top of the thumbs. All of us exchanged the "wai," along with saying "sawaddeeka," or "sawaddeekrubb" with our Siamese smiles. ( This is not to say that we Thais smile differently than people from other nations. A smile is a smile; but, as foreigners have said from about 160 years ago on, a Siamese shows her sincerity and friendliness through her smile.)
I ordered moosatay- or pork satay- for my first dish. It showed up looking very appetizing, along with a small bowl of cucumber salad which we call "ahjahd," consisting of "the balance of three" flavors -the perfect side to have after the richness and creaminess of satay- and a deep dish of satay dipping sauce; which, to my dismay, has become known internationally as the "peanut" sauce. I still wince every time I hear it called this.
I dipped my first moosatay-on a skewer- into the dipping sauce, rolled it, bathed it, and made sure that the whole tiny skewer was covered with the sweet, salty and nutty sauce. As soon as I took the first bite, though, I was bombarded with a very strange taste and the strong smell of spices which took over my taste buds. I made up my mind immediately that this first moosatay from this restaurant would also be my last- that is, if I could convince my parents not to take me there again.
In the late 80s, I went to Manhattan with my fiance to the formal reception of a foundation for young artists, at which he was one of the awarded recipients. The caterers made their rounds with several trays of up-scale and classy looking appetizers. My soon-to-be husband eagerly accepted a skewer of beef after he had been informed that it was "Thai beef satay" that already had been glazed with dipping sauce. He had already visited Thailand and had tasted a variety of Thai food, so he jumped at every opportunity to have more Thai food. He took a bite, made a face, and discreetly whispered in my ear, "Don't, honey. It's anything but Thai satay." Still feeling proud and excited that a Thai dish was present at a function in a top city of the world, I raised my eyebrows, "Oh? Let me try it, then." I took a skewer, and within one bite agreed with him.
We moved to Thailand not long after that. During my visits to America in the '90s, I didn't care to taste Thai food here. By that time, back in Thailand I had started to develop my Thai cooking skills. Since we have moved back to America again in 2005, though, we have on several occasions visited Thai restaurants in many cities here, and we have also attended a few Thai parties where the owners have proudly presented guests with their very own Thai satay. My observation is that everyone -Thai or non-Thai (that I know, who cook satay)- over-thinks the ingredients and process; and, in turn, adds layers of complexity to what is an otherwise simple and straightforward dish. To me, satay (especially the sauce) should stay simple, and to show off its main flavor uses only a few important ingredients. I wouldn't even bother with extra herbs or spices which confuse the pallette and ruin the honest-to-goodness, pure Thai satay taste.
If you would like me to show you how simple it is to make a delicious Thai satay meal, please view details my Chicken Satay Meal sales page, or click on the "Buy Now" image to buy now. Hope to see you there!