The Case of the Hairy Satay: Mystery Meat in Malaysia

Perhentian islands mystery meat

Before moving on from my coverage of where to eat and what to do on the Perhentian Islands, I need to address one more thing: though there were poisonous spiders and monitor lizards aplenty, the issue of hairy satay was one that rose to prominence as the weeks went by.

I was staying at Senja Bay Resort, recovering from my volcano climbs in Indonesia and spending time writing and chatting with new friends. Every night we would be faced with the dilemma of what to enjoy for dinner, and just about each evening we decided to stay at Senja, since they had a great dinner special of freshly grilled squid or meat satay with salad. Ordering the satay alone was a solid deal; coming in at 10RM (about $2.95) for 10 sticks, it was an easy choice.

But there was one big problem with the beef satay: it was hairy meat.

Hairy satay on the Perhentian Islands
Hairy satay!

Why were we eating hairy meat?

  • While one might normally stop eating a hairy stick of meat, my dinner group and I rationalized as follows:
  • the chicken satay was not hairy, so clearly it wasn’t actual hair falling into the food while it was being prepared;
  • the hair was less “hair” per se, but rather something fibrous, like fishing line;
  • it still tasted good – really really good; and
  • we were not getting sick
mystery meat: hairy satay in Malaysia
Jeroen and Dennis with their satay.

However, as the days went on, Jeroen started to feel a little off after his nightly foray into hairy satay, and we started swapping out the satay for something else, like grilled squid or a rice dish.

Finally, after almost 2 weeks on Coral Bay and knowing the manager well enough to ask, I presented the question as politely as possible.

The answer? “The satay is hairy because beef is hairy!”

And that was the end of beef satay for me.


Note: this post was written at the beginning of my time in Southeast Asia, and before I really started writing about food. It’s one of  the blog entries I love to look back on — how little I knew then!

As Sleepless in KL noted, it was actually galangal. I’m writing this exactly six years later, and have eaten varieties of ‘hairy’ meat, as well as delicious coconut milk and chicken soups from Thailand full of the telltale sour taste of chopped up galangal.

Part of what makes my travels so fun has been sharing what I’ve learned here, and as I go back occasionally to look at earlier posts it makes me smile to think of what I’ve picked up along the way!

15 thoughts on “The Case of the Hairy Satay: Mystery Meat in Malaysia”

  1. Most probably the 'hairs' were actually bits of galangal, which can be quite fibrous. It couldn't have been hair because hair would burn. The manager was probably pulling your leg. Bad case of humour though, if you ask me :)

  2. We gave him a list of options as to what the hair could be, but he insisted it was because beef was hairy. Even if he was joking, I was satay-ed out! :)

  3. I am a carnivore for life and even that makes me hesitate. But if you were eating it for two weeks could not have been that bad.

    Sometimes it is NOT good to ask 'what is that' when eating unfamiliar food.

  4. They tasted so good, and yet looked so….confusingly bad. I always ask what it is, because it usually doesn't give me pause. In this case, that was just the (hairy) straw that broke the camel's back!

  5. Jodi, this is a hilarious story. Yes, sometimes, I have hairy satay too, on the chicken skin, which makes the satay so much better and richer. :)

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