A Malaysian man who sought to bring a taste of home to fellow Asians in Northern Italy is attracting locals as his main customers instead.
In 2017, Justin Yip set up a food truck in the city of Turin called Sate & Sake, which delights customers to his humble yet irresistible “satay.”
For those who may not know, satay is a Southeast Asian dish of skewered and grilled meat, which comes with various special sauces.
It is said to have originated in Indonesia, where it is known as “sate” and is considered to be the national dish.
Yip, who moved to Italy nine years ago, developed a satay recipe that aimed to attract Asian exchange students in Turin.
To his surprise, his food truck amassed a majority of Italian customers instead — which he now estimates at over 90%.
“I was hoping to win over some Italians, but I didn’t expect this many,” Yip, who holds a degree from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Bra, told Atlas Obscura. “It’s the worst place in the world for non-Italian food.”
However, Yip’s business is far from an overnight success.
For starters, his food truck happens to be the antithesis of Italian food culture, which “isn’t exactly begging for alternative eating formats,” according to Atlas Obscura.
“They’re very arrogant about foreign food,” Malaysian-born customer Hasan Rosman told the outlet. “They’re used to simple ingredients, so when they try something more colorful and vivid, they worry they’ll have stomach problems.”
Yip must also abide by “unrealistic” food truck regulations, at least in the beginning, which required him to relocate every hour.
Setting up and packing up took him 15 minutes each, which meant that he had only 30 minutes to work from each location.
To make things worse, he is barred from operating within 200 meters (656 feet) of a school or 100 meters (328 feet) of a church.
He quickly realized, however, that authorities would leave him alone under a pedestrian bridge between two buildings — and that’s become his usual spot since.
While locals form the backbone of his patrons, Yip denies adjusting his recipe only to appeal to the Italian palate.
“I don’t char the satay on purpose to make it more palatable to Italians. Actually that’s real satay, Italians often think it’s burnt,” he told Mashable Southeast Asia.
However, Yip discovered that his satay goes well with beer — hence the birth of Sate & Sake.