Pacifican Elly Suraya Greenfield stood basting a row of sizzling satay skewers with canola oil on Sunday morning, as visitors to the Alameda Antiques Faire in Alameda started lining up outside her family’s food truck, “Satay by the Bay.”
Across from the grill, Greenfield’s husband, David, assembled a satay sandwich. The couple’s teenage daughter Suraya Greenfield staffed the walk-up window, taking orders and answering questions about the Singaporean-themed menu that dips into other Southeast Asian flavors.
The most common question fielded by the Greenfield family is how Singaporean food differs from Thai food. For one thing, the Greenfields don't use coconut milk or fish sauce for the peanut sauce. And then there is their specific blend of flavors.
“Malaysian-Indonesian peanut sauce is spicier, and it has a little bit of a sour taste and a little bit of sweetness because of the tamarind,” said Elly Greenfield, a Singapore native who uses her Javanese grandmother’s recipe for the peanut sauce. “For Javanese, you must always have spicy, salty, sweet and sour. All the flavors have to go together.”
The Greenfields launched their catering and food truck business, Satay by the Bay, back in 2019. Starting out, the Pacifica family offered a simple menu that included fried tofu and two kinds of satay — chicken and beef.
“The first couple of outings were good and then
suddenly we had an empanada truck on one side of us and a taco truck on the other side of us, and nobody is coming,” said David Greenfield. “I was just thinking, ‘What do we need to do to get people to come in?’ And that’s how the satay sandwich was born.”
The current menu includes a satay sandwich made with chicken and peanut sauce, and a crabmeat sandwich doused with sweet ‘n’ spicy chili sauce. Both sandwiches have mayonnaise, sliced cucumber and jalapeno and are served on a Dutch crunch roll. The meat is marinated in advance to deepen the flavor. Vegetarians and vegans can enjoy the tahu goreng, a fried tofu dish served with cucumber, carrots and raw bean sprouts. Perhaps the most popular item on the menu are the Dutch fries topped with — you guessed it — peanut sauce.
The Satay by the Bay food truck rolls into local events like the Pacifica Rock ‘n’ Roll Flea Market held last March, and it also gets around the broader Bay Area. The Greenfields regularly feed Singaporean fare to the crowds at Presidio Tunnel Tops in San Francisco, Off the Grid at the Fort Mason Center, Oakland Museum’s Off the Grid, and the Alameda Antiques Faire in Alameda. At some catering events, Satay by the Bay will serve 500 people in one night.
Elly Greenfield explained why the family prefers having a food truck over opening a restaurant.
“I don’t want to be at the mercy of an audience,” she said. “Why do you want to do that when we can actually be in the atmosphere.”
When the line of customers builds outside the food truck, Greenfield said the excitement grows among the staff.
“They love it when there’s a line,” said Elly Greenfield. “That’s when they get the adrenaline high. They say, ‘Let’s get cracking.’”
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