Beyond Just Cooking & Eating

Pempek Palembang Recipe: The Famous Indonesian Fish Cake – Part 1 of 2

One of the famous tasty Indonesian food is what so called “Pempek” (or also spelled as “Empek-Empek” – and the most famous one is the one from Palembang, West Sumatra, hence the name “Pempek Palembang”. “Pempek”  is basically a fish cake dish. There are many variations of Pempek: boiled, fried, grilled even omelett-ed. Usually serve with dark vinegar sauce, they need special skill to make it.  This is how you make it.

Difficulty: HIGH

When they come to your plate, Pempek come in different shape and size, but they all come from the same dough. The variation namely:

  1. [Ebi]

    Dried Shrimp to make “Ebi” sprinkle

    Pempek “Bulet” (ball shaped, deep fried)
  2. Pempek “Lenjer” (long tube shaped, boiled – not fried)
  3. Pempek Panggang/ Pempek “Tunu” (grilled)
  4. Pempek “Kapal Selam” (the “submarine” pempek)
    This is just big pempek “Bulet” with egg inside it)
  5. Pempek “Lenggang” ( cook as omelette with egg)
    This is just pempek “Lenjer” cut in slices and mixed with beaten egg as omelette.



Tapioka Starch a.k.a “Sagu”

Most of the ingredient will have to be bought in Asian Grocery store or better : Indonesian grocery store

  1. Fish Paste: 1kg – or- Spanish Mackarel around 800gram (see note on “The Dough” below)
  2. Sagu / Tapioka Strach: 2kg
  3. Cucumber: 2 or more
  4. Salt: 100 gr
  5. Sugar: 100 gr
  6. Spanish Onion / Red Garlic: 100 gr, finely chopped/grated
  7. Garlic: 4 bulb
  8. Coconut Milk (thick): 500 ml
  9. [Egg Noodle and Rice Vermicelli]

    Egg Noodle and Rice Vermicelli

    Plain Vinegar: 1 liter
  10. Red Sugar / “Gula Aren”: 300 gr
  11. Chili paste
  12. Some Eggs
  13. Sweet Soy Sauce
You will need to start with making the sauce first 2 days before the rest.

The Dough

OK, when all the ingredient are ready and the sauce have been prepared, let’s do the Pempek Dough first:

  1. If you want the freshest, you can just blend the Spanish Mackerel and water until it become thick paste – thicker than your tooth paste. Make sure you make it very smooth and without any crumble at all.
    [Fish paste + water]

    A Watery Fish Paste inside a bowl

    Just buy “Fish Paste” from your local Asian grocery store – choose the one with Mackerel if there is such choice, but usually the fish paste is just combination of some fish.
  2. Mix 1 cup of water for every 2 cup of fish: scoop 2 cup of fish paste put it into a bowl, then scoop 1 cup of water – until all in the bowl.
    You will end up with a bowl with quite watery liquid (see picture)
  3. Now the tedious task: using just spoon, break the fish paste into finer molecule so that there is no more clear water. You probably can use your mixer for this. The end result is should be just white liquid.
  4. [Glue-y Pempek Dough]

    Thick Pempek Dough

    Put sugar, salt and spanish onion/red garlic and coconut milk into the bowl
  5. Then put the 1kg Tapioka Starch into the bowl, beat with your hand until it become thick. You can use your dough mixer as well.
  6. You should get a glue-like dough at the end – very thick “glue” – if you find it too watery, add some more Tapioka Starch, if it is too thick, put some water. (Be careful not to add too much starch as it will make the Pempek become dry, hard and not chewy as it should be – you will get the hang of this after few run – sorry, nothing beat experience)
  7. Let is rest on the bench for 30 minute -1 hour
  8. Now the dough is ready to make various Pempek of your choice.

The Accessories

The Shrimp Sprinkle

Pestle and Mortar to chrush the dried shrimp

When you serve Pempek, you need to sprinkle this “Ebi”. Just crush the Dried Shrimp on pestle and mortar until powdery fine. Unfortunately your blender will not do the job – just a strong muscle and hundreds of crushing will do it:

The Sauce

Kiki Sambal Lampung as chili paste for a good kick

  1. This is the first item to make 2 days before the Pempek. You will need a container with the lid.
  1. Put all 1 liter of the vinegar into the bowl/container
  2. Skin the garlic, make sure they are clean, crush the garlic and dunk all garlic into the bowl
  3. Close the lid and put into the fridge for 2 days
  4. The garlic will become yellowish/brownish – this is the expected color.
On the day that you want to make the pempek, do this first:
  1. Take out the vinegar/garlic solution from the fridge and leave it on the bench to heat up naturally to room temperature.
  2. Melt all the red sugar (Gula Aren) in a saucepan adding small cup of water
  3. The Shrimp Sprinkle

    Untill all melted and become liquid, put it aside at room temperature and wait for 2-3 hours until it cools down

  4. Then mix the vinegar/garlic solution with the liquid sugar.
  5. Mix thoroughly
  6. Add Chili Paste if you like some spicy taste – otherwise make 2 separate sauce: one with chili, one without the chili
  7. You should get brownish/blackish vinegar sauce with unique aroma.

The Noodle

Just boil the egg noodle and the rice vermicelli until soft – strain the excess water and serve it with the proportion 1 to 1 into the plate. Don’t forget to sprinkle the Shrimp Sprinkle that we make above.


Cucumber to add the crunch and freshness

The Crunch

To give a good texture and crunch on your mouth, take 2 or more cucumber of your choice, slice it in pieces as pictured and just added them on the plate

Pempek Bulet


[Empek Empek Bulet]

Spongy Fried Pempek Bulet

This is the easiest Pempek we can make. Once the Pempek dough is ready, just follow the steps below:

  1. Heat up oil in your saucepan or deep fryer to about 170°C

    Frying Pempek Bulet

    It has to be very hot, but not too hot that make your oil smokey. To make sure, just use that $10 thermometer to check the temperature. If it is not hot enough, the pempek will be soggy oily , not crunchy and basically a fail one !

  2. Once the oil reach the temperature, just scoop with the spoon, make it as round as possible and just slowly put it into the fryer – Be careful of hot oil splash!
  3. Repeat until the frier is full.
  4. Fry for 15-20 minutes until brown and cook to the middle (get one, cut it and check the middle for sure)
  5. You should get a firm skin but spongy when biten. If it is hard, you put too much Tapioka Starch.

To be  continue to [PART 2]

if you have question, please fill the comment form below.

[Pempek Sauce]

The chili heaven, sweet and sour sauce

[Empek-Empek Palembang]

The Famous Indonesian Fish Cake – Pempek Palembang

Credit to Fonny Chang and EL94-Sydney team

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Sep 2012

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