When Living in a Fishing Village…

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.

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Small fish caught directly from the Ogan River.

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A local villager churns the fish out of a meat grinder.

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Once dried, they are cooked slowly over an open flame.

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This was the final product. It tasted similarly to a rice cake but with more of a fishy taste. I probably would have eaten more of these throughout my visit if I hadn’t seen how they were made.

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Small fish caught in the Ogan River and fried.

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Obviously they didn’t get the memo. I am not a food adventurist and I DID NOT even attempt to taste the fish head.

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Big fish or little fish, it doesn’t matter. If it is looking at me, I am not going to eat it.

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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.

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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.

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Pictured here is pempek salad, pempek soup, and pempek pasta. In the green bowl is a pempek made with only the skin of fish.

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This fish soup is typically served over rice. The principal of the school in the village cooked it for us.

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2 thoughts on “When Living in a Fishing Village…

  1. I’m almost jealous about how authentic your experience is. I say “almost” because I don’t eat fish and I believe I would be offending people around there left and right. But, it’s a once in a life time experience and you seem to be getting all there is to gain from it.

    • Thanks Rodney. I eat fish but I still think I offended some people, although that was not my intention. I was offered so many varieties of food that the first thing I learned to say in Indoneisan was, “tidak terima kasih.” (No, thank you.) However, I am extremely grateful for the experience and the wonderful people I met.

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