Have A Seat and Keep on Snacking: Fried Fish Cake (Pempek)

Pempek or Mpek-mpek is a delicacy from Palembang, South Sumatra. It is made of fish and flours and served together with a dark, rich sauce called cuko. There are many varieties of Pempek in shapes and cooking methods. 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.

I truly adore pempek not only for its taste and tummy-filling function; but also for its savoring specialty food. Guess what? Mom told me that she kept eating this everyday during her pregnancy with me. So, I guess that’s the reason why I am obsessed with pempek.


Fish Cake

  • 1 lb fish paste
  • 1 tbs chopped scallion (white part only)
  • 2 tbs grated garlic
  • 1 tbs salt
  • 3/4 cup tapioca starch


  • 400 gr palm sugar
  • 100 gr sugar
  • 1 liter water
  • 100 gr garlic, smashed
  • 30 gr Thai chilies
  • 20 gr salt
  • 4 tbs juice from seedless tamarind


  1. Fish Cake: combine all ingredients in a bowl. Add more tapioca starch if needed and keep stirring until the dough is smooth, not sticky and can be easily shaped. While stirring it is important to avoid trapping air bubbles inside the dough. Shape pempek as you wish. I made mine in a round shape using cookie scooper.
  2. Boil 2 liters of water and cook the pempek. The aim of boiling is to preserve the essence that develops during the gelatinization process, so that the granules of essence develop and the protein is denaturized.
  3. After being cooked the pempek is drained and chilled for a little while to ensure it doesn’t deteriorate quickly. Then deep fry in a hot oil until slightly brown color and set aside.
  4. Sauce: cook palm sugar, sugar, water in medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Add garlic, chilies, salt, and tamarind juice. Continue cooking for 5 minutes ih high heat.
  5. Serving: place the pempek in plate add pour the sauce. Garnish with cucumber. Some people like to add grinded dried shrimp called ebi and yellow noodles.
  6. Notes: Pempek has a relatively short shelf life; it can only stand for around three days at room temperature. Kept in a refrigerator, its shelf life can increase to around four weeks. However, if it is vacuum-packed and kept frozen it can be preserved for 40 days or more.
  7. If kept too long a skin will form on the surface of the pempek and affect the flavor. Another way to help preserve the pempek is to remove the water that sticks to its surface using a clean cloth. If you’re planning to take it on a long journey, sprinkle the surface of the pempek with tapioca flour to keep it dry.

The history of pempek is cited from here.


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