The Satay Queen of San Francisco | Street Food Icons

-One thing I love about
people coming to my truck is that I love to see
their first bite of my skewers or the peanut sauce,
and they go like… Then I knew
that I've done my job. ♪♪ ♪♪ Number 16 — chilli crab fries
and a satay sandwich. -The fries for here or to go? Oh, okay, they're for here. -Okay, 16 done. Hi, I'm Elly, and I'm the owner
of Satay By The Bay SF. We specialize in authentic
Singaporean street food. Our signature dish is
satay and peanut sauce. It's a family business
with my daughter and my husband. This is the only Singaporean
Malay halal food truck in the Bay Area. Singapore is about food,
not just F-O-O-D. Food is Singapore's soul. Food brings Singapore together. Our signature dishes are
Malay satay, of course — that's meat skewers — fried tofu,
which is called tahu goreng, the satay sandwich, as well as a Singapore
chilli crab sandwich. What makes a really good satay
is the meat itself — the cut of the meat,
how you marinate it, the ingredients,
how you grill it, and how sincere you are
in making the food.

It's your soul. ♪♪ Now I'm gonna show you
how to make satay. This is actually
our chicken skewers. I will cut them in strips
for easier skewering. I use chicken thigh
because it has the fats on here. That pulls all the marination
and the spices together. This is onions
and garlic powder, galangal and lemongrass, ginger, coriander, cumin,
and fennel powder, turmeric, white sugar,
and molasses. And don't forget the salt. I don't like a flat taste. I like a flavor with curve, meaning that I like something
with a little bit of salt, a little bit of sweetness,
a little bit of spices. You marinate it for 24 hours
and then you skewer it. I'm very meticulous
with how I skewer my satay. I like something
that's being done with love. And if I don't like anything
that's being skewered, I don't like how it looks, then I'll have to take it out
and put it back again. Because however
that you skewer, it will actually come out
when you grill it.

It shows the personality
of the skewer, shows the personality
of the satay. So, we roll it up
and let all the juice seep right into the meat. And we put this in the fridge
for the next day. Yay! Done. ♪♪ -It's probably the most legit. -Authentic, like, street food. -I've spent a lot of time
in Singapore. It's where we met.
-Yeah, we met in Singapore. -It's been really lovely.
My go-to is the tahu goreng. It's something I haven't had
in at least 15 years. And when I first had
a bite of it here, I was hooked. -I really like
the chilli crab anything — chilli crab fries,
chilli crab sandwich.

It's just really fantastic. -I grew up in Singapore
in a very staunch Muslim family. My mom is part Indian. My dad is part Chinese
with Javanese descent. My mom was always a homemaker.
She got into catering business and her catering got a little
bit bigger, and she needed help. So I was… forced to volunteer
to be in the kitchen. So, uh, it was brutal. I was born a rebel. In elementary school, I remember telling
my best friend that, "Oh, I hate this place.
I hate Singapore. When I grow up,
I want to move far, far away." I felt that everything
just did not make sense there. It was — Everything
was so conservative. Everything was with rules. Being a rebel, of course,
I got married age 18, and it lasted only
for nine years. And, um, got back into
the dating scene, met my husband online.

At that time,
it was a Yahoo! chat line. I told my girlfriend I want to
go far, far away for vacation. She suggested, she says,
"I need a vacation, too. Let's meet in San Francisco." And I messaged David and I said,
"Hey, I'm coming to America." I said "America," right?
So he goes like, "Where?" And I said, "San Francisco,"
and he goes, "Oh, you forgot that I live
in San Francisco." I said, "Darn it,
I wasn't ready." [ Laughs ] But I said,
"Okay, fine, whatever." And the rest was history.

We got married
three months later. It was a hard transition
because I left everything to be with my husband,
and I had a career, I had a home there,
I own an apartment there. And when I moved here,
I was nobody. I didn't have a Social Security,
I didn't have a bank account. I didn't have
a driver's license. I had no friends. It was a very hard transition
emotionally, but not technically, because our visa
went through okay, I got my — I got my
temporary green card, I got my work permit
at that time, I got a job. So the transition
processing-wise was — was very easy. Yeah, it was easy, but
emotionally was not — not easy. ♪♪ ♪♪ -It is 7:34 a.m. I start out my day
by heading to the store to pick up produce
and meat and other supplies.

Elly is in the kitchen
skewering the meat and making the sauces. Me, I-I like to call myself
the grunt worker. I'm just getting
all the shopping done and doing the cleaning, doing the basic prep,
cutting vegetables. She's the one
that creates the magic. This is the star right here — my grandmother's peanut sauce. Our food truck is
all about the peanut sauce.

Our peanut sauce is special because it is originated
by my grandmother. You gotta believe it's not just
any other peanut sauce. You know, I have people
coming to my window and say, "I have never tasted this kind
of peanut sauce before." My answer is, it's my
grandmother's peanut sauce. I say, "You see the picture
up there? That's my grandmother." ♪♪ -I got the truck all loaded up. Now it's time to head
to Forbidden Island. It is known as one
of America's best tiki bars. It used to be our favorite place
to go for date night. -There's a line before we open. -We got to get going. -So, we have marinated
our satay, and now this is actually
show time. We're gonna grill it.
You put the oil on it. It's like painting on a canvas. ♪♪ No two skewers
are built the same.

Just like humans. ♪♪ So, while waiting
for the skewers to grill, I'm gonna put in
the peanut sauce in here. Oh, God, this is…
Don't film this yet. This one is ugly. -Elly, you don't have a choice
to what gets filmed. -This is actually
compressed rice — the regular jasmine rice,
and we compress it. What you do is that
you eat it with the skewers and you dip it in.

This is chicken satay meal
with rice cake and peanut sauce
and cucumber salad. ♪♪ -We've been married 20 years
this August. I don't think she really
had the ambition to open a restaurant at first, but the food kept her
connected to home all her years of living here. Whenever she feels like
she misses her parents, she'd just go cook
a special old meal that her mom or dad
used to make. And her mom had a stroke, and now her dad's
starting to slow down. She wishes they could
see the truck. She knows how proud
it would make them. [ Voice breaking ]
It's like the one thing… One thing that's just missing
is having them here. She made both generations proud
with what she's done. She sure makes a lot of people
here happy with it. There's nothing else like it
around here. ♪♪ -24 sticks of chicken,
four chilli crab sandwiches, and [indistinct].

-Whoa. Okay. -24.
-Oh. Okay. They want to feed the family. Hey, I'm not complaining. -Pressure's on.
-Pressure's on! I've been an insurance agent
for many years and I worked hard
to be one of the top agents. And I was thinking that,
hey, why am I working so hard and — and making money
for the company when I — I can actually
do it for myself? I planned to have a business,
but not a food business. I actually planned to open
a yoga studio, you know, but the path was not open,
and I said, "Okay, let's do a food business,"
and bam — it just opened. My grandmother
had pinned me down, like saying, "You are gonna be
selling satay in 40 years,"
or something like that. I fought it so hard
being a rebel, and — and I was destined to be
in the food business.

Oh, man, you make me feel
so disgusted with myself! [ Laughs ] I feel like a failed rebel. [ Snorts, laughs ] ♪♪ It's more soulful when you run
a family business. And with the life partner
that I have, I think he is
the perfect partner for me. So, now that
I'm in this food business, right, it's lot of tension. and everybody wants
to be the boss, but nobody wants to listen. ♪♪ You can't — You can't yell
at your co-worker. Yes, you can,
but up to a certain level.

But with your husband
or even your siblings, you can just say
whatever you want. You can say that,
"You're stupid!" "No, you're stupid!"
"Listen, I'm the boss." "No, I'm the boss, actually!" That kind of thing.
Okay. [ Laughs ] [ Conversing in Malay ] -Yeah, but did you have
a good Eid? -You know what,
I've been working. -Yes, I notice.
-[ Speaking Malay ] We Singaporeans, you don't come
here for an American dream. We don't come here
for a better life. But you know what it is, though? Technically,
I do have a better life here. I can be who I am. I can do whatever I want
without being judged. You know,
being married to David, he lets me be myself, you know. Not like being in Asia, whereby you are supposed
to behave a certain way. I would say that I'm living
my life right now. Am I living the American life?
Yes, I am! [ Laughs ] I think I gave birth to an angel because she is not a rebel. At age 14, she has actually
learned a lot in our food truck business.

She gets bossy. [ Laughs ] The future boss is bossy. -Somebody's gotta
keep us in line. She did tell me, "One day I am
gonna take over your truck. You can relax,
and I'll make money for you." And tell you the truth,
I was horrified. [ Laughs ] I'm a protective mom because
doing a business is hard. After a while, I feel that,
you know what? She's gonna come out
ahead of me because she already
has a foundation. She already knows what it is. All she needs to do
is just take over. She did tell me this, though. She says, "I'm not gonna work
as hard as you. I'm gonna employ people." That's pretty smart.
[ Laughs ] Hey, David told me
that he got emotional, huh? [ Laughs ] -Yes.
-Hey, you know what? We were not surprised.
-No? -He cries all the time.
[ Laughter ] ♪♪

As found on YouTube

The Satay Queen of San Francisco | Street Food Icons

Elly Suraya Greenfield is the owner of Satay By The Bay SF, the only Singaporean, Malay & Halal food truck in San Francisco. Although satay is their most popular dish, as it’s marinated overnight, grilled to order on bamboo skewers, and served with homemade peanut sauce whose recipe was handed down by Elly’s grandmother, the food truck also sells other Singaporean-inspired dishes such as chili crab sandwiches and chili crab fries.

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