Freelance writer and blogger from Sydney (ex-Melbourne). Avid foodie and traveller. Loves dogs.
Published July 18th 2017
Try 'pempek', an Indonesian specialty
I'm always amazed at how quickly the Indonesian food scene is growing in Melbourne. Growing up, there were hardly any places that would be good enough for my parents to leave the house and fork out money for dishes they could cook at home. Today? There are quite a number of excellent Indonesian restaurants – even my mum, Indonesian-born and bred herself, will reluctantly admit that they're 'just as good' as her own cooking. One such restaurant that has opened up in recent years is Famili Ria in Surrey Hills.
Famili Ria makes probably the best pempek in any Indonesian restaurant in Melbourne, at least in my opinion. So, what are pempek? They're savoury fishcakes from Palembang in South Sumatra. They're made by mixing Spanish mackerel and tapioca flour along with a handful of seasoning ingredients to produce a chewy pattie that's similar-but-not-quite-the-same to the Thai fish cake.
There are about 300 different types of pempek; you can get them in different shapes, sizes, textures and fillings – my favourite is the one that is deep fried and filled with egg. Traditionally, pempek are served with a sweet and sour sauce called kuah cuka (literally 'vinegar sauce' in Indonesian), which is quite rich and tangy. They can also be served with condiments and noodles, though my family prefers them served simply with kuah cuka, pickles and some prawn crackers on the side.
Although pempek is a Palembang specialty, you can find this dish everywhere around Indonesia. My mum even makes her own version at home, however it's not exactly a 15-minute job in the kitchen so it's always nice to enjoy it at a restaurant – and one that's just as good as Famili Ria.
As mentioned earlier, there are around 300 types of pempek available but Famili Ria focuses on five: telor kecil (small, with egg), panjang (long-shaped), bulat (ball-shaped), keriting (curly) and tahu (tofu stuffed with fish cake). You can choose your favourite one or enjoy them in all one neat bowl called the pempek sampler. If you're new to this, I highly recommend the sampler as you can try a variety of fish cakes and decide which ones you like best. The sampler also comes with egg noodles, vermicelli, cucumber and dried shrimp as well as kuah cuka on the side.
Famili Ria also does non-pempek dishes and they're all delicious too. My dad likes to order the bakmie ayam (chicken noodles) while I tend to deviate towards the tekwan (noodles in shrimp broth with mini fish cakes). During winter, the mie tekwan is an instant heart warmer and I love how the broth is so delicate yet complex and tasty at the same time with a hint of sourness for extra flavour.