One of favorite childhood food memories is of our family’s little Indonesian Rijsttafel.

I lived my first five years in the little village of Rumbai on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. It wasn’t just the middle of nowhere, it was literally the middle of the jungle. I kid you not. Our house was on the edge of town. It was our house, an oil road, fifty yards of grass clearing, then the dark green imposing, seemingly impenetrable wall of jungle.

How close were we to the jungle? We sometimes had monkeys living beneath our house—our houses were built up on stilts and cement blocks to mitigate the monsoon flooding.

How close were we to the jungle? I was once caught in the front yard playing with a green mamba, one of the world’s most poisonous snakes. I still don’t know why it didn’t bite me.

How close were we to the jungle? I got to once a pet tiger. It was dead. It had killed a local guy, so the town company called in a crazy Australian tiger hunter to come in and kill it. I still remember what it felt like — I have a horrible memory.

My mother seemed to embrace Indonesian food. And even though we never called it Rijsttafel, we did eat that way from time to time.

Rijsttafel is Dutch —I know, weird, but click here for a brief history of the Dutch in Indonesia — for “rice table.” It’s a bit like tapas.

Anyway, we would have a major entrée, then fill the table with tomatoes and olives, dill pickles and gherkins, eggs, and anything else mom may have thrown onto the table.

The mainstay of our Rijsttafel was Saté Ayam.

There is a scene from the animated film Ratatouille. Anton Ego, the villain puts a bite of ratatouille into his mouth and he is suddenly transported to his childhood. This is the one dish that does that very thing for me.

I really do hope that you try this bad boy. Now, it’s deecidedly an Americanized version. But it is so tasty.

Saté Ayam


2 lbs. Chicken breast, cubed
4 clove garlic, thinly sliced
4 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp water
some oil

For Sauce

1 onion, Chopped
1 tbsp oil
1 c. water
1/2 c. crunchy peanut butter (Sometimes, I admit, I add a bit more. It depends on how thick you want the sauce.
2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp chili
to taste salt
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp almond extract (this was Mom’s secret ingredient. It punches up the flavor)


You will need bamboo skewers for this dish…or not.

1   Mix garlic, soy sauce, water into a bowl.

2   Add chicken pieces and pour in oil until the chicken is fully covered.

3   Shake, then marinade for up to three hours.

4   If using skewers, skewer five pieces of chicken on each skewer. If not, then, obviously, omit skewering chicken pieces.

5a  If skewered, grill until chicken is fully cooked.

5b  If now skewered, saute the chicken until fully cooked.

Peanut Sauce

1   Saute the onion in hot oil until soft.

2   Add the water, peanut butter, spices, sugar, and stir well top combine.

3   Cook over low heat, stirring constantly.

4   Add soy sauce, lemon juice and almond extract. Stir until combined.

* I always like to add some sambal (an indonesian garlic/chili chutney available in any Asian grocery. It has a rooster on it.) but it makes it spicy. And soooooo goooooood.

The Finish

We usually put the chicken on a bed of rice and pour the sauce over the chicken.