Palembang

Known for one of the oldest cities in Indonesia, Palembang history goes all the way back to the powerful ancient Malay kingdom, Srivijaya. Like any major cities in Indonesia, the capital of South Sumatra doesn’t seem to have any proof or mark of how the city was like in the past. However, the atmosphere of the town being a port during the Dutch colonial era can still be seen from some of the old buildings bearing the dutch architectural designs.

The old Malay cultures are still passed down to many living Malays now. Cultures in the form of music, dances and traditional clothing including the kind of hand-woven cloth that made them are still around today. In fact, other cultures, including Batak culture (my race), prefer to have the malay-styled hand-woven cloth, called Songket, as the material to make women skirts. Such traditional clothing is usually worn during the local weddings or other traditional ceremony.

I visited Palembang for the third time in my life. The first time was quite a long time ago in my childhood, which was when I visited four cousins of mine who live there. Two of them are now married. Those were the reason for the other two times I visited Palembang. My relatives came together from various parts of Indonesia to attend the wedding. Due to our closeness to each other, it was hard to plan a short exploration of Palembang, simply because everyone had to go together. Not that everyone had to follow, but weddings are the only time for us to gather in one city for a short period of time. So, most of the time we spent hours enjoying each other company in the hostel. There was lots of catching up to do.

Anyway, I got a chance to witness what essentially Palembang is famous for: the cheap, but good quality traditional cloth I spoke about earlier and the local food called Pempek, which is Indonesian fish cake accompanied with its specially made vinegar sauce. There are probably other things that the city is famous for, but I really know of these two only.

I went to one of the hand-woven Songket outlets to accompany my mother, her sister, her sister-in-law, my sister and my grandaunt-in-law. All of them bought at least one for themselves (notice how popular this cloth is to the women). Apparently, buying the cloth in Palembang is half the price of buying them in other cities. I have to admit that I find the cloth beautiful because of the diverse patterns and colors and the different kinds of thread used to make it. Apparently, the thread includes metallic threads or what the local call ‘crystal’. It made some parts of the cloth its shiny look. There were other kinds of authentic Indonesian apparent such as batik, wax-resist dyeing cloth, and silk woven scarfs.

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Then there’s Pempek. Some Indonesian may find my obsession on Pempek as over rated. I’m sure there’s Pempek in major Indonesian cities because, well, you can’t simple hope for it to be just found in Palembang. But it is found in every corner of Palembang. The fish cake is made from fish and tapioca. It is fried and served with vinegar sauce. And, man, it’s one delicious snack.

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Anyway, another good snacks to bring home from Palembang is the fish crackers. There are many shapes of it. There are different method of making them while they are all essentially made of fish and flour. There are two kinds of crackers, crackers no.1 and no.2. What I understand from the shop owner explanation is that the no.1 cracker has more fish per volume compared to the no.2. The shop keepers were nice to boxed the crackers up because we were going to bring it back as luggage.

We bought our crackers at a shop next door to our hostel which has a lot of choices for crackers. And, surprisingly, they set up a very nice cafe at their shop. The cafe was pretty special as it sells Pempek as their main dish. I personally feel that the place was a perfect hangout place for tourists in Palembang, complete with the usual coffee drinks, clean cafe atmosphere and wi-fi.

For dinner, we headed to a small restaurant selling Patin fish or Iridescent shark in a soup based dish. It tasted almost like tom yam soup. Anyway, the restaurant was called Rumah Makan (Restaurant) Pindang Musi Rawas. The place looked like a typical local house converted into a small family restaurant with muslim-malay decorations. Besides the food being really satisfying, the atmosphere in the restaurant kind of give me the feeling of being served as a guest in one of the local houses, not just a regular restaurant.

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The whole trip was tiring because of the traditional Batak wedding. Here I share a few pictures of how people dressed during the wedding in Indonesia. I wanted to cover on how traditional Batak wedding is carried out, but I really do not understand the structure of it. Writing about it would be a total chore.

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