Header image courtesy of Shenny Fierdha
Fish fanatics will definitely experience a feeding frenzy once they have set foot in Palembang, a city with traditional foods mostly made of fish. This provincial capital of South Sumatra has a long-standing reputation of being the best ‘pempek’—savoury fish cakes served with sour and spicy, watery, dipping sauce called ‘cuko’—hub in Indonesia.
Such fame however, overshadows other lesser-known, yet equally delicious dishes such as fish cake soup with vermicelli ‘tekwan’ and noodles with shrimp-based gravy ‘mie celor’. The good news is you can indulge in those delicacies at many restaurants across Palembang. If you do not have time (or money) to book a flight there, fret not, as there are some restaurants in Jakarta offering authentic Palembangese cuisine. So, whether you are planning a feast in Jakarta or Palembang, here are five must-try Palembangese foods, other than pempek, you cannot miss and where to find them in both cities.
Sweet, salty, and savoury are three right words to describe ‘Mie Celor’. It consists of noodles swimming in a pool of creamy gravy made of shrimps and coconut milk. Sometimes the gravy is yellow, sometimes it is orange—it depends on where you order your mie celor as each eatery has its own special blend of spices that contributes to the colour difference. To garnish the noodles, slices of a hard-boiled egg and a handful of poached bean sprouts are scattered on top. Imagine slurping the ramen-like noodles and sipping the fragrant gravy on a cold rainy day—wouldn’t that be tempting? Satisfy your mouth and belly with a bowl of mie celor at Mie Celor 26 Ilir H. M. Syafei Z. and Sari Sanjaya.
Mie Celor 26 Ilir H. M. Syafei Z., Jalan Merdeka no. 54, Kelurahan Talang Semut, Kecamatan Bukit Kecil, Palembang, South Sumatra, Indonesia | (+62) 711 5630501
Sari Sanjaya, Jalan Boulevard Raya blok QA 1 no. 8-9, Kelurahan Kelapa Gading Barat, Kecamatan Kelapa Gading, North Jakarta, DKI Jakarta, Indonesia | (+62) 458 45550
When you have a cold, a nice bowl of warm ‘tekwan’—soup consisting of fish cakes shaped into bite-sized balls, a fistful of vermicelli, wood ear mushrooms, and sliced jicama—should make you feel better. The soup is made of shrimp stock which gives the dish an aromatic fragrance. Breathing in its comforting smell makes you feel like being at your grandmother’s house, enjoying her home-made meal. Tekwan tastes very light and is therefore suitable for an in-between-meal snack. You can add some chilli relish ‘sambal’ to make it hot and spicy, too. Also, most pempek shops include tekwan in the menu, so you know where to go if you are craving some.
Tekwan Toshiba, Jalan Dempo Luar no. 923, Kelurahan 15 Ilir, Kecamatan Ilir Timur I, Palembang, South Sumatra, Indonesia
Pempek 161, Jalan Radio Dalam Raya no. H5 C, Kelurahan Gandaria Utara, Kecamatan Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta, DKI Jakarta, Indonesia | (+62) 21 7228971
Yes, Palembang has its own style of ‘martabak telur’ (Indonesian salty fried pancake with eggs and beef stuffing) but with a different touch. ‘Martabak kari Palembang’ is a fried pancake stuffed with eggs but no beef at all. It is yellow in colour and cut into big squares. A bowl of thick curry with beef and potatoes, roughly chopped, is served alongside the martabak for dipping. Meanwhile, another bowl of light soy sauce mixed with thin slices of green chillies is also available to enhance the curry flavour. There is one famous restaurant that serves the best martabak kari and that is Martabak HAR. HAR stands for the owner’s name, Haji Abdoel Razak. Martabak HAR has many branches in both Palembang and Jakarta.
Martabak HAR Simpang Sekip, Jalan Jenderal Sudirman no. 1078, Kelurahan Sungai Pangeran, Kecamatan Ilir Timur I, Palembang, South Sumatra, Indonesia | (+62) 811 7848488
Martabak Kari Palembang Haji Abdoel Razak, Jalan Biak no. 29 C, Kelurahan Tomang, Kecamatan Grogol Petamburan, West Jakarta, DKI Jakarta, Indonesia | (+62) 818 801330
Palembangese people know how to put a twist on their fish cakes—be that boiled, steamed, grilled, fried, it is all delicious! ‘Lenggang’ is a unique take on fish cakes thickly cut into pieces, mixed with one or two eggs lightly beaten and cooked in a round pan. The end result is like an omelette, or you can say a pempek omelette. A splash of sour and spicy watery dipping sauce ‘cuko’ goes on top of the lenggang while small cucumber chunks and dried shrimps are loosely sprinkled, giving it a rustic appearance and an unmatched flavour. Lenggang is available at most pempek shops and Palembangese restaurants.
Pempek Saga Sudi Mampir, Jalan Merdeka no. 8, Kelurahan 22 Ilir, Kecamatan Bukit Kecil, Palembang, South Sumatra, Indonesia | (+62) 711 314417
Pempek Palembang Glory, Jalan Jenderal Basuki Rachmat no. 7, Kelurahan Cipinang Muara, Kecamatan Jatinegara, East Jakarta, DKI Jakarta, Indonesia | (+62) 859 13218
Roughly translated, ‘es kacang merah’ means red bean ice. It is a cold beverage made of shaved ice, red beans, sweet condensed milk (vanilla or chocolate), and syrup. Its refreshing sensation is best enjoyed on a super hot day, or after a super hot meal. Es kacang merah has been a staple dessert for many generations in Palembang. It is everywhere—sold at modest food stalls on the streets, even served on special occasions like wedding receptions. For those accustomed to consuming red beans as a soup, then es kacang merah will give them a new perspective on the succulent beans.
Pempek & Es Kacang VICO, Jalan Veteran no. 8 B, Kelurahan 9 Ilir, Kecamatan Ilir Timur II, Palembang, South Sumatra, Indonesia | (+62) 821 62922018
Pempek Pak Raden, Jalan Meruya Ilir Raya no. 40, Kelurahan Srengseng, Kecamatan Kembangan, West Jakarta, DKI Jakarta, Indonesia | (+62) 21 58907753