My love for this savory Indonesian
fish cake called pempek has reached epidemic proportions, given
by the mere existance of this article. Let me take you on a journey through
one of my ritual visits to a pempek eatery in Central Jakarta and
see how this Palembang dish pampers my palates.
||Tucked away in the nooks and crannies of Central
Jakarta is Megaria Pempek house. It is legendary that this
tiny restaurant, which measures only 5x6 meters in area, serves the
best-tasting pempeks in Jakarta. Megaria enjoys a huge customer
base due to high traffic of people in the area thanks to an operating
cinema theatre and a Hero supermarket nearby.
| Just outside Megaria Pempek, you get
to see the many different types of pempek available through
its glass window. It is usually at this point that I get dizzy from
envisioning myself devouring a bowl of freshly fried pempek.
||After seating ourselves, a waiter "mas-mas"
will swiftly approach our table with samples of the pre-boiled merchandise.
The task now is to pick which one I wanted. I normally go with the
biggest one: pempek kapal selam (item no. 1), which literally
translates to "submarine-shaped pempek." Just for trivia's
sake, pempek no. 2 is a pempek lenjer.
|Shortly after our orders are taken, our portions
of deep-fried pempek kapal selams will make their arrival,
piping hot and swimming in cuko, a type of dark sauce which
tastes like sweet, sour and spicy vinegar! Bits of dried shrimp powder
and sliced cucumber are added as garnishing. Brace yourself, this
particular pempek has a treat inside...
||A telor rebus! A pempek kapal selam
will always have one boiled egg inside it, which explains its larger
size in relation to other types of pempek which are either
long or rounded.
I must also mention that pempek enthusiasts claim that
the success of the cuko's flavoring will influence how good
a pempek will taste.
|Alas, the one serving of pempek kapal selam
was not enough for hungry ol' me. Can you blame me, it had been an
entire year since I last sank my teeth into these lovely fried morsels
of fish dough! For my second helping, I chose to sample the 1) pempek
kriting and 2) pempek adaan. They taste similar to the
previous pempek I had; they just came in different shapes and
didn't contain boiled eggs.
||Apa pun makannya, minumnya teh botol!
In true Indonesian pop culture experience, the number one way to complement
a meal was to wash it down with teh botol!
|The very next day after visiting Megaria,
I was invited to Riga's house in Pesanggrahan for a lunch of (gasp!)
homemade pempek! Runi, her adorable 10-year-old cousin was
more than delighted to pose with these unfried pempeks for
||Here they are sizzling away in hot, golden
oil. Ever the diligent documenter, I made myself right at home in
the kitchen and proceeded to take pictures of the frying pempeks,
much to my hosts' amusement. :)
| Riga's mom also made tekwan, which
is essentially pempek in soup! Tasty indeed! Having a meal
with Riga and family felt quite authentic as I knew I was surrounded
by friends who actually have origins in Palembang.
||Did I say I loved pempek? I meant "obsessed!"
I truly adore pempek not only for its taste and tummy-filling
function; it is savoring specialty food like this that ultimately
reminds me that I am once again back in the country I regard as my
second home - Indonesia.