Satay Celup at Capitol Satay in Melakka is a coveted meal, even by Malaysian standards. Satay Celup (pronounced che-lup) is one of the many hotpot-style, cook-it-yourself experiences very popular in that part of the world. From Korean barbecue to Japanese Sukiyaki (hotpot) to traditional Chinese steamboat, we ate this way more times in a month than I have in probably my whole life in Australia.
I suppose there’s something appealing about seeing the fresh, raw ingredients in front of you and being in complete control of your food. At least, that’s what it seemed like. Personally, I’d rather have the chef cook it the way he wants us to eat it – whether it’s smothered in ghee or glazed in a special sauce or seared for just the right amount of time. Anyway, you might as well just buy the ingredients yourself and do it at home, right?
I think I’m about to eat my words, or at least my thoughts: Satay Celup is the best cook-it-yourself experience I’ve had yet, and it’s utterly impossible to imitate in your own home. Instead of a barbecue, hot plate or pot of boiling soup, satay celup uses a vat (approximately 5 litres) of peanut sauce (satay) simmering away thanks to a burner underneath your very-much-plastic table. You then jam as many skewers of food as possible into said vat and wait for it to cook. After an indeterminable amount of time, you fish around trying to find your skewer but settle for something that looks vaguely like what you put in – even though you’re sure your skewered meat didn’t have legs. Then you
stick it up your nose eat it.
In any good satay celup place, the thing to watch for is the satay itself – that pot of magic bubbling in the middle of the table. At Capitol Satay, every vat is taken from a mother pot of sauce that’s been simmering away for days, weeks or months. Regardless, the result is this amazingly layered sauce that tastes nothing like the nuclear orange goo often found in Australia. When I was younger I didn’t like peanuts, to the point of thinking I was allergic. This satay had no sharp peanut taste, instead a subtle smokiness and a flavour that goes back generations. The building itself is plastered with signs to the tune of “We’re the only Capitol Satay, don’t believe any imitators!” And judging by the line forming outside – only 30 minutes after it opened – none of their imitators could match their product.
Once inside, buffeted by an array of oscillating fans, you make your way over to the back of the 60-seater shop to find the choicest sticks with good things on them. At one Ringgit (~30c AUD) per stick, it’s hard to go wrong. We ended up buying handfuls of everything, whether we recognized it or not.
There is some ‘crazy’ stuff on this tray – the tamest thing is probably those pink skewers – just chicken breast. The tiny white eggs are quail eggs, while the black ones are ‘century’ quail eggs with sliced ginger. More on that later. The white things in the bowl are – I believe – dumplings, and the darker meat-on-a-stick was chicken heart or liver… not sure which.
We also had fried beancurd ‘3 ways’, strange squares of squid, chilli peppers stuffed with fish paste, beancurd stuffed with fish paste, crab sticks, ‘regular’ sausage, bundles of green vegetable and whatever chicken innard I didn’t mention above. I think we had liver on the right hand tray, and heart on the left. Notice the century egg in the bottom left, too…
Century eggs are a Chinese delicacy: traditionally duck eggs buried in the ground for 100 days until they ferment and turn black/red, as above. I have vivid memories of being told about these eggs in primary school and say “eeewwww!” – I finally get to try them! Once you get over the way they look, there’s very little actually ‘wrong’ with them (if anything). The texture is just like a hard-boiled egg, and the flavour is slightly more metallic, almost like it has more iron in it. Not sure if I’d idly snack on them quite yet, but definitely not deserving of their reputation in the west.
Seriously, though, this stuff is magical, addictive – just the entire ‘Satay Celup’ thing. I can’t really overstate how fantastic the satay itself was, it completely ‘made’ the experience. Personally, I found the skewered things to be alright, but the best bit was by far the sauce – the skewers were basically vehicles for the satay. I think they also claimed to use the now-controversial technique: the perpetual sauce. This is a technique commonly found in both French and Chinese cooking, where a sauce or stock is kept continuously simmering. They even add back in the ‘used’ satay sauce at Capitol Satay, with little bits of previous meals floating around – a wonderful thing in terms of flavour! If you’re worried about germs, don’t be: the high temperatures kill off any bugs – and hey, extra protein. Some places using this technique claim to have a perpetual stock that’s been going for hundreds of years. Seem crazy? When you taste their food you might not think so. This is similar to the Chinese wok hei – literally “breath of the wok”. It’s that indescribable flavour imparted by a well used, well seasoned wok. It’s never actually washed with soap and water – that would get rid of all the flavour! Instead, it’s wiped out between uses. I’m sure you can taste the difference between a meal cooked in grandma’s old cast iron pan and a spanking new teflon thing – I think it’s one of the most commonly overlooked elements of cooking equipment.
After a certain indeterminable amount of time, the employee in charge of your table decides you’ve eaten enough and brings out a new bundle of sticks: the good stuff. This is basically all of the stuff they restrict, otherwise everybody would go straight for it (that and it’s proportionally more expensive). We got things like scallops, octopus tentacles, enormous whole tiger prawns and more squid squares. Of course, fiendishly, it’s been planned so your average SPM (sticks per minute) rate has fallen – you’re now too full to take advantage of these new ‘gifts’. Keep in mind, though, that these skewers are still 1 ringgit each. Between seven of us, we managed I think just over 120 sticks, so 120 ringgit which is about 38 Aussie dollars. Not bad at all for seven now-very-full people!
If you’re ever in Melakka, I would strongly recommend – nay, implore – that you get a seat at this place, it’s really a fantastic experience all round. I don’t know what else can be said, it’s great price, great food, great fun.
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May 18 2015