Do You Know the Satay Man?
“Do you know the Satay Man, the Satay Man, the Satay Man? Do you know the Satay Man, who works in Tiong Bahru?”
It is with great sadness that I read about the “demise” of the Satay Man of Tiong Bahru. The famous Satay Man, who has been plying the nostalgic estate with his pushcart for 38 years, has been slapped with a hefty fine by the authorities for being an “illegal food vendor”.
I first caught sight of the elusive Satay Man in January 2013. Yes, I call him elusive because many of my friends who live in Tiong Bahru have never managed to get a single glimpse of him. He was almost like an urban legend. Years ago, I’ve already seen his wooden pushcart parked among the blocks surrounded by Moh Guan Terrace, Seng Poh Road and Lim Liak Street, but have never caught hold of him over the years till 3 Jan 2013.
On that fateful day, I was at the place of a friend, who lives at Moh Guan Terrace. Out of the blue, my friend said nonchalantly, “Oh, the Satay Man is here.”
That got me excited. “How did you know?”
“Neh, he makes a noise when he’s here.”
Indeed, the Satay Man made a high-pitched noise, which sounded to me like “kway kway” (although he probably meant “satay”), to indicate his arrival. I quickly rushed down the stairs, armed with my wallet and another friend in tow. I was afraid that the Satay Man would disappear before I got to him.
All these years, I had imagined the Satay Man to be an old uncle in his 60s. Instead, the Satay Man looked to be in his mid-40s, dressed in a collared “Montagut-ish” polo shirt. His offerings were basic – he only sold pork satay. The satay were priced at 40 cents a stick. Given it was my first time, I made a modest order of 10 sticks of satay, without ordering any ketupat.
While waiting for my satay to be ready, residents around the area started to arrive. Some even came with plates in their hands. They all exchanged pleasantries and greetings with the Satay Man, like he was a good old friend. It was quite heart-warming to witness the Tiong Bahru “neighbourliness”.
The Satay Man chatted with his customers as he worked, fanning away at the hot grill with fervour and an old-fashioned “ah mah” straw fan. When one customer asked him why he had not been around, the Satay Man replied that his wife had just gone for a surgery and he had been staying at home looking after his wife. He said that her surgery cost $15,000 and he was still short of money, even after deducting the government subsidies for the surgery. The Satay Man added that he lives in Queenstown area, and not Tiong Bahru.
My order was soon ready. The Satay Man packed my satay in a bag, and also gave me some peanut sauce with generous servings of mashed pineapple. The satay turned out to be one of the best pork satay I’ve ever tasted for one single reason. Each and every stick came with the biggest chunk of pork lard I’ve ever seen on a satay! Oh, it was heavenly as I sank my teeth into the crunchy grilled pork lard. Such divine decadence.
Four days later, I caught the Satay Man for the second time. (I must thank my lucky stars.) Needless to say, I bought more satay from him. However, that was the last I saw of the Satay Man. He was the last standing Satay Man of Tiong Bahru, and probably Singapore too.
If you have news of the Satay Man, let me know by email. There are many Singaporeans out there (me and my friends included) who wish to know how he is and also, lend a helping hand.
ABOUT THE WRITER
A wordsmith by trade and photographer at heart, Kat leaves her footprints around the world and tell stories as seen through her eyes, heart and soul. Follow her travel and culinary journeys on her blog and Instagram. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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