Foreigner’s Guide to What to Eat in South Sumatra, Indonesia

South Sumatra is full of unique food that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. While some are delicious, others are downright weird for a typical foreigner such as my Canadian self. Whether you’re used to eating barbecued snail or not, give all of these great dishes a try on a trip to South Sumatra.

Lake Ranau- Grilled Lake Fish

What to Eat in South Sumatra, Indonesia
What to Eat in South Sumatra, Indonesia -Grilled Lake Fish- Lake Ranau

Around Lake Ranau you can almost guarantee that any fish you come across is fresh from the lake. Try and find a roadside restaurant, where they will grill the fish over coals with a light marinade of garlic. An entire fish including sides should only set you back about $5.

What to Eat in South Sumatra, Indonesia
What to Eat in South Sumatra, Indonesia – Fresh Lake Fish and Sides-Lake Ranau

Palembang- Pempek

What to Eat in South Sumatra, Indonesia
What to Eat in South Sumatra, Indonesia- Pempek in Palembang, South Sumatra

Pempek is a savoury fishcake famous in Palembang. It comes in all sorts of shapes, sizes and stuffed with a variety of different fillings. Head to Harum, a popular local cake shop in Palembang to try their sweets as well as Pempek, then wash it down the traditional way with a bottle of cold, sweetened, black tea fittingly called Tehbotol.

Don’t give up after trying only one kind of Pempek, each one can be completely different and you might find one you really like, or you might end up like me and not like any of them. Either way, you’ll have tried this dish unique to Palembang, South Sumatra.

Pagar Alam- Sate Snail and Cow Stomach

What to Eat in South Sumatra, Indonesia
What to Eat in South Sumatra, Indonesia- Sate-Grilled meat skewers

When you catch a whiff of burning charcoal in Pagar Alam, look to see if it is accompanied by a sate stall. These skewers of meat are usually chicken or beef but if you’re lucky you might come across something more exotic like snail or stomach.

We stumbled across a stall in Curup Embun Falls selling these specialty skewers and while at first I was adamant I didn’t want to try it, after seeing my travel companions eating barbecued snail and cow stomach rather happily, I realised I’d have to give it a try. The snail was surprisingly delicious while the texture was a bit like grilled eraser. When one skewer will set you back a whopping 10 cents, there’s really no excuse to not try something new.

Durian

What to Eat in South Sumatra, Indonesia
What to Eat in South Sumatra, Indonesia- Durian

If you come across this weapon of a fruit don’t be scared, Durian is a delicacy in Asia. Many countries pay up to $50 for a couple small pieces. In South Sumatra you can get an entire one for a buck. The smell is pretty potent but trust me you’ll be surprised by the sweetness and distinct flavour you get out of this creamy fruit. Make sure you get the seller to open it for you otherwise you might end up in with bloody hands. Yikes!

Rambutan (Hairy Fruit)

What to Eat in South Sumatra, Indonesia
What to Eat in South Sumatra, Indonesia- Rambutan

When in season you’ll spot this bright red and hairy fruit almost everywhere you go. Up in the trees, at roadside fruit stalls or just cruising past you on the back of a motorbike. Don’t pass by this funny looking fruit, it’s similar to a lychee but sweeter and a million times better in my opinion. Peel off the hairy skin and inside is a clear sweet flesh that you pull away from the inner pit with your teeth. Don’t eat the pit it’s really bitter. I guarantee you’ll love it, and if you don’t you can always send it my way!

Other South Sumatra Specialties

South Sumatra is full of unique dishes, I unfortunately didn’t have a chance to try them all. If you have the opportunity, Palembang’s other specialty is Mie Celor, a noodle dish with egg in coconut milk and dried shrimp. South Sumatra is also home to a spicy fish soup with soy and tamarind called Pindang, while durian lovers might like Ikan Brengkes that is fish served in a spicy durian-based sauce and Tempoyak which is a sauce of shrimp paste, lime juice, chilli and fermented durian.

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