Food Note: Pempek Palembang
Pempek is a chewy glutinous fish cake in a spicy sweet and sour sauce, usually served deep fried
Pempek originated from Palembang region of Sumatera island, Western Indonesia. It is basically a steamed dough consisted of mixed tapioka flour and fish meat. It is eaten deep fried, grilled, or mixed in an omelette as pictured above. The other important ingredients is the cuko or sweet sour hot sauce and the grained ebi (dried shrimp). They usually topped also with dices of cucumber, and so'un (glass noodle). Mixed altogether, the pungent richness of the fish meat taste, danced in rhythm with the dried shrimp aroma, and accompanied in harmony by the serenade of sweet, dark, sour, and spicy hot sauce. A kind of sensation hard to find anywhere else. Be warned though, that inexperienced stomach tend to fall victim to the sharp taste of the sauce. The cucumber dices could help calm down your digestive system, so do not skip them.
For the fish meat, they usually uses Tenggiri (Spanish Mackerel), though some more original version uses Belida (Palembang unique species of fresh water fish). Beside the meat, some pempek variation uses fish skin instead, usually marked by darker color of the dough.
There are several variations of pempek, and most notably are "Kapal Selam" (submarine) which consisted of boiled chicken eggs inside and shaped like a clam, and "Lenjer" which shaped in cylinders. The omelette version, is called "Lenggang" and consist of either Kapal Selam or Lenjer that sliced thin then oil-fried in egg batter.
Less common to be sold by mobile street vendors, Pempek usually available in roadside stalls, warungs, or food courts. Expect to pay about 10K - 20K for a good quality of pempek, and less for economical version with bland taste and less alive cuko. (bay)
About author: Bayu Amus
Bayu Amus is a gastronomic storyteller and Food Experience designer. He pens food articles for travel magazines, speaks on food events, and was part of the team who compiled Makansutra Indonesia 2013, the pocket book which showcases Bali’s best street food. Contact him through firstname.lastname@example.org