On Saturday, April 18, 2016, a dozen or so hungry locals in a bustling Malaysian market began to tear into a large, wriggling sack of meat. As they tore into the sack, they were greeted by a cloud of flies. The locals were horrified.
M’Bayar is an insurance broker in Malaysia. He has seen a lot of strange things in his line of work. But this one was new. He was driving along the highway when suddenly a lump of meat fell off a truck and landed on the road in front of him. What could be the story behind this hairy piece of meat?
Every year, Malaysia experiences a terrible haze that affects both its tourism industry and its reputation. It is formed on forest fires that are set to clear land for palm oil and timber plantations. This year’s haze has been particularly bad.
This is a very difficult time to be in Malaysia even for those not directly affected, since the air pollution is so bad that the country was forced to close its airspace. The haze is so bad that it has even affected the bees that pollinate vegetables and flowers in Malaysia.
Before I move on from my coverage of where to eat and what to do in the Perhentian Islands, there’s one more point to make: despite the abundance of deadly spiders and monitor lizards, the problem of hairy satay became more prominent as the weeks passed.
I was recuperating after my Indonesian volcano climbs in Senja Bay Resort, where I was writing and chatting with new friends. Every night, we had to pick what to eat for dinner, and almost every evening, we chose Senja since they offered a fantastic dinner special of freshly grilled squid or beef satay with salad. Ordering only the satay was a good bargain; for 10RM (about $2.95) for 10 sticks, it was a no-brainer.
The beef satay, however, had one major flaw: it was hairy meat.
Satay with a beard!
Why were we eating hairy flesh in the first place?
- While one would usually cease eating a hairy piece of beef, my dinner companions and I came up with the following justification:
- The chicken satay was not hairy, therefore it wasn’t real hair that fell into the dish during preparation.
- It wasn’t so much hair as it was something fibrous, like fishing line;
- It still tasted great – fantastically so; and
- We weren’t ill at all.
However, as the days went on, Jeroen began to feel a bit odd after his nightly excursion into hairy satay, and we began substituting grilled squid or a rice dish for the satay.
Finally, after almost two weeks on Coral Bay and knowing the manager well enough to inquire, I gently asked the question.
What is the solution? “Beef is hairy, therefore the satay is hairy!”
That was the last time I ate beef satay.
Note: I wrote this article in the start of my stay in Southeast Asia, before I really got into food writing. It’s one of my favorite blog posts to reread since it reminds me of how ignorant I was at the time.
It was really galangal, as Sleepless in KL pointed out. I’m writing this six years later, and I’ve had a variety of ‘hairy’ meats from Thailand, as well as wonderful coconut milk and chicken soups with the distinct sour flavor of chopped galangal.
Part of what has made my trips so enjoyable has been sharing what I’ve learned on this blog, and it always makes me grin to think about what I’ve learnt along the way!
There are a lot of mysteries in Malaysia, and one of them is the mystery of the hairy meat.. Read more about hawkins v mcgee opinion and let us know what you think.