In the first part of our Palembang story, we shared with you some of the spots that you should visit in Palembang. In this half, we’ll share with you what’s good to eat in this historical city and the recommended hotels you can experience.
Palembang is truly a city for historical buffs and foodies because the options are endless! And due to the proximity of the city to Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, it’s an ideal destination for a long weekend trip.
Palembang is synonymous with ‘pempek’, local fish cakes of different sizes that are eaten with a dip called ‘cuko’ (it tastes sourish, hot, and slightly sweet). Sometimes pempek comes with filling like tofu or sauteed young papaya. Our guide informs us that pempeks are made by mixing sago or tapioca flour with freshwater fish that’s usually caught in local rivers. And just like every other traditional food anywhere, every family has their own recipe for both pempek and cuko.
The thing about pempek is that the basic recipe can be stretched out to so many other dishes. When it’s served with clear soup, it becomes tekwan, if it’s served with a curry-like broth, it’s laksan, if it’s grilled with egg in a banana leaf casing, it’s called lenggang. Slice it thinly and dry it out and it becomes kemplang (fish crackers).
You can enjoy this at upper-class restaurants or the budget roadside restaurants and even buy the frozen ones for you to bring home, all nicely packed and sealed. For newbies, head out to Restoran Kapal Selam. They have an open kitchen where you can see how pempeks are made, and they have an English menu. The restaurant also serves other Palembang traditional dishes, just in case fish is not your thing. For the food-hunters, the area of Pasar 26 Ilir (specifically Jl. Mujahidin) is your playground. The entire street is filled with pempek restaurants. We tried a few and our favourite there is Pempek Lala.
For us, the magic of mie celor lies in the chewy and springy texture of the noodle, and the light prawn taste of the broth. We were told that mie celor is a morning meal staple but as we see it, we can have mie celor at any time of the day. Go ahead ask for extra prawns when ordering.
We tried the famous Mie Celor H.M. Syafei Z 26 Ilir on a Saturday. The portion was small but it filled us up really well. Bonus: We got to walk around the delightful morning market that’s just right outside the restaurant. This mie celor place is also within the same area as Jl. Mujahidin, the pempek street that’s mentioned above, and near Palembang Harum bakery mentioned below.
At first we thought, how can a martabak be that special? And then we tried Martabak Har. We wanted seconds, and thirds. For Malaysians and Singaporeans who are familiar with meat-filled murtabak, Martabak Har is different. It’s more like roti/prata telur banjir-super deluxe edition.
Martabak Har’s martabak is made with duck egg or chicken egg filling and it’s cooked with more oil than our version but the end product is not oily at all. This martabak is served with potato and meat curry. You just have to try it to taste the difference.
Maksuba & Kue Delapan Jam
Legendary bakery Palembang Harum is said to make the best traditional cakes of Palembang– kue maksuba and kueh delapan jam. Maksuba looks like kue lapis legit but even at first bite you’ll taste the difference in texture. This traditional cake uses around 25 duck eggs, and each layer is baked in different pans before stacked together.
Another labour intensive traditional cake is kue delapan jam (8 hours cake). While the ingredients are rather modest, kue delapan jam is steamed for eight long hours and that gives this cake a nice soft texture and caramelised taste.
Warung Mbok War
Warung Mbok War is one of the many ‘floating warungs’, a very short walk from Dermaga Point. It caters mainly for the commuting locals, so this eatery opens early in the morning and closes before the sun sets.
The main menu here is pindang patin (catfish cooked in hot and sour clear broth). As with the variety of pindang in Malaysia, the pindang in Palembang has its own special taste. If fish is not your thing, you can order fried or grilled chicken, and don’t forget to ask for the staple tofu and tempe sides. Wash all the yum down with a glass of cold iced tea while admiring the view of Jambatan Ampera (Ampera Bridge).
Pasar Durian Kuto
We love durian, so this durian market feels like heaven on earth for us. We had wet wipes, sanitizer all prepared and then the stall owners gave us gloves. Ah, such ease.
The durians here are classified by locality rather than the breed. That means you might not be able to find musang king or D24 here, but ask for durian from Medan, or Padang and other provinces of Indonesia.
Where to Stay?
As mentioned before, Palembang played host to two main regional sports events recently, and that being said, the city has a number of hotels of well-known international and local brands.
If you’re on a budget and like being literally right next to a mall, we recommend Emilia Hotel Palembang by Amazing. It’s situated within the Palembang Indah Mall compound. The rooms are simple but the comfort is maximum. Breakfast spread is of a good size, but make sure you go early! The hotel is near a mall which means ease in getting food and other supplies.
If you can spend a bit more, Novotel Palembang is a good option for optimum R&R. With an expansive compound, this hotel comes with a huge outdoor swimming pool, fitness centre and all the works of a 4-star hotel. That said, you might also want to book an extra night here, just to stay in and enjoy the very comfortable bed and other amenities.
Story and photos by Ili Farhana (Instagram : @ilitinyadventures)
Thank you Charming Palembang for making our trip possible.