Pempek, a Typical Fish-Based Cuisine of Palembang  

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Pempek Palembang
One of the variants of pempek Palembang, fish-based cuisine of South Sumatera. (Photo: Wonderful Image/Kemenparekraf)

Pempek Palembang is a traditional Indonesian dish hailing from Palembang, the capital of South Sumatra province. It is a popular street food and is widely enjoyed throughout the country. Pempek is made primarily from fish and tapioca starch, resulting in a unique and delicious culinary experience.

The main ingredient of pempek is fish, typically using freshwater fish like tenggiri (Spanish mackerel) or belida (featherback fish). The fish is ground into a smooth paste and combined with tapioca starch, resulting in a pliable dough-like mixture. This mixture is then shaped into various forms, commonly in elongated or round shapes.

There are several different types of pempek, each with its own distinct shape and name. Here are a few popular varieties:

Pempek Kapal Selam

Also known as “submarine pempek,” it is filled with a whole hard-boiled egg and then deep-fried. The name “kapal selam” (submarine) comes from its appearance, as the egg yolk is enclosed within the fish dough resembling a submerged submarine.

Pempek Lenjer

This type is long and cylindrical in shape. It is often served with a sweet and tangy vinegar-based sauce called cuko and garnished with cucumber and small dried shrimp.

Pempek Adaan

It is round in shape and usually smaller in size compared to other types of pempek. It has a softer texture and is often served as part of a combination platter with other pempek varieties.

Pempek Telur Kecil

As its name says, ‘pempek telur kecil’ means pempek of small egg. It is a smaller, bite-sized version of pempek kapal selam, with a quail egg inside instead of a chicken egg.

Once shaped, the pempek is boiled in hot water until it floats to the surface, indicating it is cooked. After boiling, it is commonly served by slicing the pempek into bite-sized pieces and topping it with the flavorful cuko sauce, which is made from palm sugar, vinegar, garlic, chili, and salt. Additional garnishes like fried shallots, cucumber, and ebi (dried shrimp) can be added for extra texture and flavor.

Pempek is loved for its delicate fish flavor, slightly chewy texture, and the balance of sweet, tangy, and spicy flavors from the cuko sauce. It is a favorite among Indonesians and visitors alike, often enjoyed as a snack or a light meal.

If you have the chance to try pempek Palembang, it is highly recommended to experience the unique flavors and cultural significance of this beloved Indonesian dish.

As other local cuisines, this pempek can also be found nearly in all big cities across Indonesia. However, if you happen to visit Palembang, it would be better to explore the city while finding and tasting the pempek in its hometown.

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