From Kuliner Sehat CV Koma Jaya: Pempek, mpek-mpek or empek-empek is a savoury Indonesian fishcake delicacy, made of fish and tapioca, from Palembang, South Sumatera, Indonesia. Pempek is served with rich sweet and sour sauce called kuah cuko (lit. vinegar sauce). Sometimes local people also eat the dish with yellow noodles and diced up cucumber.
Pempek is the best-known of Palembang’s dishes Its origin is undoubtedly Palembang. However, the history behind the creation of this savoury dish is unclear..
According to local tradition, around the 16th century there was an old Chinese immigrant who lived near the Musi river. He noticed an abundance of fish caught by the local fishermen. In the Sumatran tropical climate, before the invention of refrigeration technology, most of these unsold leftover fish decayed and were wasted. The indigenous people, however, had limited knowledge and techniques for processing fish. During that period, most of the indigenous people simply grilled, fried or boiled their fish instead of adding other ingredients to make new dishes. The old Chinese man mixed in some tapioca and other spices, which he then sold around the village on his cart. The people referred to this old man as ‘pek-apek, where apek is a Chinese slang word to call an old man. The food is known today as empek-empek or pempek.
Another theory suggests that pempek was a Palembang adaptation of Southern Chinese based food. But instead of being served in soup or plainly fried, pempek is notable for its spicy palm sugar-vinegar based sauce.
This fishcake dough can be made into various shapes and forms with additional ingredients. Just like pasta the shapes have their own distinctive names, although all are made from the same dough. There are many varieties of pempek are:
• Pempek kapal selam: (Indonesian: submarine pempek), which is made from a chicken egg wrapped within the pempek dough and then deep-fried.
According to food science and technology scientist, the pempek kapal selam, with egg addition, is rich in protein, fat, vitamin a, mineral, and carbohydrate content, is the most nutritious variety. The name derived from the shape of pempek that resembles submersible midget submarine.
• Pempek telur kecil: (English: small egg pempek), filled with egg similar to pempek kapal selam, but smaller.
• Pempek lenjer: long cylindrical pempek, its shape is similar to sausages.
• Pempek keriting: (English: curly pempek), the dough is made into small noodle ball.
• Pempek pistel: the shape and size is similar to pempek telur kecil, but filled with minced young papaya instead.
• Pempek kulit: (English: Skin Pempek) mixed with minced fish skin, has stronger fishy aroma and darker color.
• Pempek adaan: ball shaped pempek.
• Pempek tahu: tofu sliced and filled with pempek dough.
• Pempek Tunu: charcoal-grilled pempek. It is stuffed with ebi, sweet kecap sauce and chilli sauce.
• Pempek model: tofu wrapped inside pempek dough. Similar to pempek kapal selam, but egg is replaced with tofu.
Most of those forms of pempek are deep fried in cooking oil until light brown, and are served with yellow noodles or rice vermicelli and kuah cuko, sprinkled with chopped cucumber and ebi powder.
The pempek fishcake can be used as a base ingredient of other dishes. The unfried cylindrical pempek lenjer is often cut and added as a mixture to the following dishes:
1. Celimpungan: small pempek balls cooked in spicy coconut milk, served with chilli, sprinkled with fried shallots.
2. Laksa: often referred to as Palembang style pempek in soup, sliced pempek fishcake in coconut milk based soup.
3. Lenggang: omelette with mixture of sliced pempek fishcake, also served in kuah cuko.
4. Tekwan: chopped pempek fishcake soup with jicama, mushroom and fish balls.