Theme Magazine: Food Issue #18


I’ve always liked eating meat on sticks because it means you don’t have to get your hands dirty or use your hands at all. The endless lectures on hygiene at childhood made getting into the habit of washing your hands before meals a big chore. Growing up in tropical Singapore meant lots of barbeques with local BBQ meat favourites like satay – marinated beef, chicken or lamb served with raw onions, cucumbers and ketupat (rice cakes wrapped in leaves) served with a sweet grainy peanut sauce. The peanut sauce gravy is at once spicy and sweet at the same time. Every time I see the woven patterns of Bottega Veneta bags, they are reminiscent of my childhood with Malay rice cakes and satay.

Then, I moved to Beijing a year and half ago and started eating meat on sticks regularly again since they were everywhere, from the alleys of working class neighbourhoods to right outside stylishly hip clubs. It didn’t matter how you dressed or where you were heading, these ordinary meat on sticks bridged all class boundaries. I’ve observed countless foreigners speaking fluent Mandarin (complete with Beijing accent) and sharing a conversation with to the lao Beijingren over a chuaner. I’ve inverted my BBQ eating habits since moving to the Northern capital. Instead of looking forward to summer BBQs outdoors, I get incontrollable cravings for the grilled meats on bitter cold winter nights and more often than not, have one after a late night out before heading home– always room for one chuaner for the road.

After many brief yet interesting conversations with the Uyghur migrants responsible for bringing the lamb kebabs to the Capital, I found that they took pains to import the lambs from home to give the Beijingers exactly what they enjoy back home. What fascinated me even more is the innovative makeshift grill they put together with a wheelbarrow, fiery charcoal sits in the trough with a metal mesh placed on top, a perfect example of entrepreneurship and ergonomic design put to greater purpose. These delicious chuaners (pronounced chaunr 串儿) are sold for just 2RMB. The meat o’sticks are lamb, beef or chicken chunks spiced with cumin seed, chili powder and salt, that packs a good punch. I’ve had many fond memories on a drunken winter nights, warming up by the grill while waiting for a few tasty skewers to end the evening of revelry. My favourites are still the ones you buy off the street (you can find them in restaurants as well). Buy a stick of lamb or two and enjoy the drunken company of the old Beijing folks on makeshift plastic stools (what would the people with knee problems who can’t squat do?) or simply have it on the go as a snack. Nothing beats washing down the rich spicy salty taste with an ice cold local Yanjing beer for just another 5RMB. This snack is simple, serious food and ironically best enjoyed in the cold winter months.

Aside from enjoying the meat, my favourite part of the set up is the countless glowing tacky red Christmas lights cleverly twisted to make up the hierographic character that looks like meat on sticks (串). Chuaners, kebabs, satay or whatever you call them, these tasty meats will always a comfort snack, whatever the season.


Satay Recipe

• 500g meat- chicken, beef or pork
• 2 cloves of garlic
• 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
• 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
• 1/4 inch piece turmeric root
• 1 teaspoon Chinese rice wine
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 1/4 cup evaporated milk
• 1 tablespoon sunflower cooking oil
• 3 table spoons of oyster sauce

Cut meat into small thin pieces. Grind together the garlic, coriander seeds, cumin seeds & turmeric.Combine ground spices with oyster sauce, rice wine & sugar.Season meat with the ground spices and let marinate overnight in the fridge.
Soak the bamboo sticks in water before you start the grill, so they won’t burn.
Insert the meat and grill over a charcoal fire, brush with a thin layer of evaporated milk mixed with oil. Flatten the head of lemon grass to make a makeshift brush.

Peanut Sauce
• 8 dried chillies (soaked until soft). Remove the seeds if you do not like it too hot.
• 2 cloves of garlic
• 1/2 cup shallots
• 4 macadamia nuts or cooked ground nuts will do
• 1/4 cup cooking oil
• 1 cup peanuts (finely ground)
• 1/4 cup thin tamarind juice ( get the tamarind paste, add a little warm water and squeeze the juice, strain)
• 1/4 cup evaporated milk diluted with 1 cup water.
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• salt to taste

Grind together until very fine: chillies, garlic, shallots & candle-nuts.
In a wok or saucepan, fry ground ingredients in hot oil for 5 minutes.
Stir in ground peanuts and tamarind juice.
Bring to the boil, add evaporated milk to taste.


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