No Rattans, Roots will do

‘No rattans, roots will do’ is a literal translation of an authentic Indonesian proverb ‘Tak Ada Rotan, Akar pun jadi’. The meaning is more or less like this: ‘when you don’t have the originals at hand, go for the substitutes’.

We often try to find substitutes for everything in life, although somewhere in the back of our minds, we know that’s not really possible. Substituting everything in life is impossible!

When it comes to cooking, there are substitutes for almost every cooking  ingredient. But, there is one thing that cannot be substituted for, it’s the taste. Why do similar recipes made by different people have different tastes? It is because the taste of a recipe does not depend only on its ingredients and method of preparation. It also depends on who cooks it.  There can be substitutes for ingredients but there’s no substitute for the taste.

Why recipe substitutions?

In cooking, particularly when you enjoy free style cooking like I do, we need to practice the essense of this old Indonesian proverb when certain ingredients are unavailable at home or in the market. When we forget to buy the stuff we need, that is when we need to get hold of something that is handy. Using margarine as a substitute for butter and vice versa is a common example of the use of substitutes in cooking. 

It’s common sense to use ingredients of similar flavor as alternatives for one another. Obviously, you won’t like the substitutes to bring about a radical change to how your recipe tastes. Or you will find yourself finding a substitute for what you have cooked!


Well, let’s park for a while the Roots (read substitutes) ……and focus on the ‘rattan’ (read: original) intention I wrote this blog which is to share one of the authentic Indonesian Chicken Satay recipes named Sate Madura. 

Why Sate Madura?


Indonesia has so many types of chicken satay but Sate Madura is the prima donna of all chicken satay in our country.  And some of the ingredients of Sate Madura may not be available in countries outside Indonesia or Asia thus some of you may have to find substitutes for them.

The ‘Rattan’ (read: original) Ingredients

  • 3 shallots 
  • 3 candle nuts  
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 kg boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs, cut into cubes
  • 100 ml water
  • Cooking Oil
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 100 ml Indonesian sweet soy sauce
  • 2 red finger-length chilies
  • 3 bird-eye chili (optional)
  • 500 roasted peanuts (ground to a paste) 
  • 10 ml Lime juice
  • Bamboo skewers (as needed)

And here is the list of the ‘Roots’ (read: substitute) Ingredients:

  • shallots (for the spice-mix) can be subsituted with onion
  • candle nut can be substituted by almond
  • if it is too complicated to ground the roasted peanut into a paste, you can substitute it with ready-made peanut butter
  • the Indonesian sweet soy sauce is the authentic ingredient for Sate Madura. As a substitute,  you may try  adding  palm sugar or brown sugar into Kikoman soy sauce until the soy sauce becomes sweet and a bit thicker.   

Cooking Method

  • Ground shallot, garlic, candle nut, red chilies, and bird-eye chilies to a fine paste.
  • Heat oil in a saucepan then sauté the paste until fragrant.
  • Add  the ground peanuts or peanut butter,  50 ml of sweet soy sauce, salt and water.
  • Mix well and slowly bring to a boil.
  • Remove saucepan from heat and add lime juice.
  • Cool to room temperature.
  • Impale  the chicken cubes on the bamboo skewers until 3/4 full.

Before grilling, marinate the chicken satay for at least 1 hours with a quarter of the sauce and the rest of the sweet soy sauce.

After half-cooked, dip again in the marinade and then grill again until completely cooked.  

By dipping in the marinade repeatedly, the taste of  the ingredients  really permeate through the chicken meat.

Serve satay with peanut sauce mix and condiments (sliced onions or shallots, carrots, cucumber, chilies, limes). It goes well with rice or lontong (Indonesian rice cake wrapped in banana leaves). 

To add flavor, garnish the chicken satay with fried shallots


 More on ‘Roots’

  • The original grilling method, the charcoal grill, can be substituted with gas or electrical grill.    
  • Home-made fried shallots can be substituted with ready-made which you can buy in some supermarkets.

Notes and Tips:

  • The shallots used for fried shallots cannot be substituted by onions coz when deep-fried, the taste is different. 
  • Soak bamboo skewers in water for at least 1/2 hour so they don’t burn.
  • Use chicken thighs for best flavor and texture.


  • Wiki Quotes
  • The Olive Chef Community
  • Cooking Substitutes Encyclopedia




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