Chicken Satay: BBQ, Singapore Style

Among the things I miss the most about my native Singapore is one simple activity: Sitting by the beach on a steamy summer evening and looking out at the water as I reach for stick after greasy stick of freshly grilled satay.

The satay expeditions of my girlhood were frequent — few things beat the smoky smells of chicken, beef and mutton marinated in a potent cocktail of lemongrass, garlic, galangal, and turmeric getting barbecued in open-air food stalls, after all.

And my family, being hyper competitive as it is, always made a sport of it. Dad would order satay by the dozens and the race would begin to see whose pile of sticks, stripped of meat, would be the largest at the end. (You would think my father, being the oldest and the only male, would always win. Well, not in this cutthroat family, he didn’t.)

So when my Let’s Lunch crew decided on BBQ for our monthly virtual lunch date, satay seemed a must. I’ve only made it a few times in New York — never in Singapore, where it’s so easy to find and cheap (30 to 50 cents Singapore per stick, or 23 to 40 cents U.S.) that it makes little sense to go to the trouble of making it.

But I had just made it recently — at a little dinner one night at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program

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Xie Xie: A Little Lost In Translation


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Working my way through the Vietnamese fish sandwich at Xie Xie, the newest addition to the New York Asian sandwich scene, a phrase kept ringing through my head: “I’m not seeing the forest for the trees.”

In this case, it was the fact that two thick layers of dill, paired with a slender portion of turmeric-seasoned fish, ended up being so overwhelming that it was hard to get a sense of the sandwich as a whole.

All you truly noticed was that you had a mouth full of dill. (And a lot of bread.)

As for the fish — which is the star of chaca la vong, the heady dill- and turmeric-scented Hanoi dish that this $8.75 sandwich was modeled and named after — that can be a little hard to detect after wading through all that dill and starch.

Which is not to say that Xie Xie isn’t worth checking out. 

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