When you come to Palembang, you should never leave the city before tasting pempek.
Don’t go home unless you bring some packs of pempek, either!
I lived in Palembang for almost 20 years. Pempek is like our main dish at every meal; breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The “cuko” flows in our blood. Pempek is synonymous with Palembang so it is no wonder Palembang is called “The City of Pempek”.
If someone comes to Palembang, they will be served pempek, either the homemade or the restaurant version. This food can be found everywhere and has become the most searched food around the city. You can find this in food stalls, street vendors, and restaurants. With its variants, you can taste the food as a snack or a main course. It’s all your choice.
Pempek is a popular street food that is originally from Palembang, South Sumatra and has spread not only around Indonesia but also throughout the world. Recently, this food has been awarded the fourth best-rated seafood dish in the world by Taste Atlas.
Pempek is a traditional fishcake, made of boneless ground fish meat and tapioca flour which is shaped into various forms such as balls, cylinders, or flat patties. This dish is versatile and can be enjoyed in various forms and with different fillings. Whether you prefer it in a ball or cylindrical shape, with or without an egg, there is a type of pempek that will suit your taste buds.
The kind of fish meat influences the quality of pempek. Various kinds of fish meat can be used to produce pempek, such as tenggiri (wahoo fish) and ikan gabus (snakehead fish). However, the best pempek is made of belida (featherback fish). This kind of fish is quite scarce so it makes the price sky high.
Although made of fish, pempek only tastes a little fishy. It tastes savoury and umami. Pempek can be cooked by boiling, steaming, or frying to make the texture pretty chewy. However, people sometimes add a little cooking oil or wheat flour to improve the texture and make the pempek less chewy.
Tasting pempek is not complete without cuko, a dark-brown sauce that is sweet, sour, and spicy. Some people eat pempek by dipping it into the cuko. However, Palembangese people will also slurp cuko.
Pempek has a lot of variants with different shapes and fillings, such as:
- Pempek kapal selam (Submarine pempek): This type of pempek is the biggest one. It has a boiled egg inside and is shaped like a giant submarine.
- Pempek telur kecil (Small egg pempek): This pempek is a smaller version of kapal selam.
- Pempek adaan: A pempek shaped into small balls.
- Pempek lenjer: This pempek has a soft, spongy texture and is cylinder-shaped.
- Pempek kulit (Skin pempek): This type of pempek is made by wrapping a thin layer of fish skin around the fish mixture.
- Pempek keriting (Curly pempek): A type of pempek whose dough is shaped into a small noodle ball.
- Pempek panggang (Toasted pempek): This pempek is shaped like a patty and filled with ebi (small shrimp).
Pempek is not only tasty but also has a number of health benefits. Since it is made of fish, this Palembangese local dish contains a lot of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, both of which are indispensable for heart and brain health. Because tapioca flour is gluten-free, pempek is a good option for gluten-intolerant people, as well.
All in all, pempek is a distinct and delectable Indonesian fishcake that has grown in popularity both locally and internationally. Its chewy texture and flavourful sauce make it a favourite among street food enthusiasts. If you ever visit Indonesia, make sure to try pempek; it is a great way to sample the country’s diverse culinary traditions. However, to taste the original pempek that will certainly blow your mind, you can only do so in Palembang.