I have spent a lot of time in Palembang which is on the Musi River. While staying in the village in Ogan Ilir, the banks of the Ogan River was just a brief walk from our host family’s house.
Not only do these rivers serve as the main source of water for bathing and washing clothes, they also serve as the main food source. I thought I was a seafood and fish lover until I spent 10 days with majority of my food coming from these rivers. I have been offered every kind of fish from these rivers, cooked every kind of way. My plate has been filled with fish of all sizes, fish guts, butts, and even fish eggs. Remember the scene in Forest Gump when Bubba named all those different kinds of shrimp dishes. If I were taking notes, I could easily do that with fish. I’ve had fish soup, fish pasta, even fish chips made from the tails. After 3 days, I had consumed enough fish to last a lifetime. I stopped asking about the names and ingredients of the fish dishes but, I continued to snap photos.
They take these little fish and put handfuls of them in a meat grinder and churn out a mush that is made into patties and placed in the sun to dry.
We went into this restaurant’s kitchen to see how one of the traditional fish dishes was made. This is called pempek. Fish is ground up to a pulp, mixed with a local brand of flour, rolled into a ball, and boiled.
I got to make this kind which was filled with egg yolks before it is cooked. Unfortunately, I didn’t really like pempek and I began to notice that washing hands with only water was the standard when handling food. This really affected my views of eating in the country especially since using toilet tissue is not common but more of a luxury. Traditionally, the left hand is used to clean oneself after using the restroom. Knowing that and seeing a lack of soap, my stomach dropped each time I was offered food. But, it is their custom to constantly offer guests something to eat. One day, within a 5 hour period, I was offered full meals on 7 different occasions.