Pempek or Mpek-mpek is a delicacy from Palembang, South Sumatra. It is made of fish and sago flours and served together with a dark, rich sauce called cuko. Cuko is made from brown sugar, chilli pepper, garlic, vinegar, and salt to boiling water.
There are many varieties of Pempek. The most famous one is the Pempek Kapal Selam (Indonesian: “submarine”), which is made from a chicken egg wrapped within the Pempek dough and then deep-fried. This type pempek contains of high vitamin, protein, mineral, and carbohydrate content, is the most nutritious variety. As a local staple, Pempek can be commonly found on every street in Palembang.
According to some stories, Pempek had been already in Palembang since 16th century when Chinese traveller came to the region. Around 1617 there was an Apek (Chinese slang for an old man) who lived near Musi river. He noticed an abundance of fish caught by the local fishermen. During that period, most of the people simply just fried and grilled their fish. The old Chinese Man then tried other alternative by adding fish meat with sago flour and other spices, which he then sold around the village on his bicycle. The people referred to this old man as ‘pek-apek’. The food is known today as Empek-empek or Pempek Palembang.
Due the lack of some ingredients, I finally successfully made by myself. I got the best recipe from my contact in Facebook, who is originally from Palembang. She kindly shared her family recipe. I substituted sago flour with tapioca and for the cuko, instead of using vinegar I used tamarind for having a sour taste.
Preparing time: 45 minutes
Serving for 4 people
- 500 gram flesh of Spanish mackerels, grinded – you can also used other fillet fish such as herring, pangasius
- 3 egg yolks
- 200 ml ice water
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 tablespoon white sugar
- 1 teaspoon white pepper powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 3 tablespoons vegetables oil
- around 800 – 1000 g sagoo/tapioca flour
- 250 g palm sugar
- 2 tablespoons white sugar
- 6 cloves of garlic, no need to peel the skin
- 25 g bird’s eyes chillies
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoons of tamarind (depend how sour you want the soup is)
- 250 ml water
- Egg noodle, cooked
- Grinded dried shrimp (ebi) – optional
1. Grind all the ingredients to make fish cake, except sagoo/tapioca flour. Mix them well.
2. Then take 1 tablespoon of fish batter, add about 2-3 tablespoons of sagoo flour, mix and shape pempek as you wish (usually long and round). Set aside and shape the rest of batter until finished.
3. Boil the water using saucepan, and cook the pempek, about 15 minutes. When they are coming up to the surface, means it’s ready/cooked. Drain from the water and set aside.
4. Heat the oil and deep fry the cooked pempek.
5. Make the soup (cuko): boil the water with all the ingredients until sugar is dissolved. Then grind the sauce using food grinder or hand mixer, filter.
4. Serving: place the pempek in plate (you can cut into small pieces), add the noodle and then pour with the soup. Garnish with the cucumber. Some people like to add ebi (grinded dried shrimp).