1115 Riversdale Road
Surrey Hills VIC 3127
+61 3 9808 6767
I’m always amazed at how quickly the Indonesian food scene is growing in Melbourne. Growing up, there were hardly any places that would be good enough for my parents to leave the house and fork out money for dishes they could cook at home. Today? There are quite a number of excellent Indonesian restaurants – even my mum will reluctantly admit that they’re ‘just as good’ as her own cooking. One such restaurant that has opened up in recent years is Famili Ria in Surrey Hills.
I’m not sure where the misspelling of ‘family’ comes from; the Indonesian word for family is ‘keluarga’ which is obviously way off the mark. Never mind, though. This place makes probably the best pempek in any Indonesian restaurant in Melbourne, at least in my opinion. So, what are pempek? They’re savoury fishcakes from Palembang in South Sumatra. They’re made by mixing Spanish mackerel and tapioca flour along with a handful of seasoning ingredients to produce a chewy pattie that’s similar-but-not-quite-the-same to the Thai fish cake.
There are about 300 different types of pempek; you can get them in different shapes, sizes, textures and fillings – my favourite is the one that is deep fried and filled with egg. Traditionally, pempek are served with a sweet and sour sauce called kuah cuka (literally ‘vinegar sauce’ in Indonesian), which is quite rich and tangy – definitely nothing like the neon red sweet and sour sauces you see slathered on ‘pork’ at faux Chinese food court stalls around Australia. They can also be served with condiments and noodles, though my family prefers them served simply with kuah cuka, pickles and some prawn crackers on the side. Although pempek is a Palembang specialty, you can find this dish everywhere around Indonesia. My mum even makes her own version at home, however it’s not exactly a 15-minute job in the kitchen so it’s always nice to enjoy it at a restaurant – and one that’s just as good as Famili Ria.
The restaurant itself is pretty Spartan (think: melamine bowls and budget tables and chairs) but that’s not an issue at all. My main gripe is that it often gets really cold, especially in winter, so my tip is to rug up accordingly with lots of layers!
I’ve been here a few times and I usually deviate between two dishes: the pempek sampler and the mie tekwan, both pictured below (there are two servings of pempek sampler).
As mentioned earlier, there are around 300 types of pempek available but Famili Ria focuses on five: telor kecil (small, with egg), panjang (long-shaped), bulat (ball-shaped), keriting (curly) and tahu (tofu stuffed with fish cake). You can choose your favourite one or enjoy them in all one neat bowl called the pempek sampler. If you’re new to this, I highly recommend the sampler as you can try a variety of fish cakes and decide which ones you like best. The sampler also comes with egg noodles, vermicelli, cucumber and dried shrimp as well as kuah cuka on the side.
Famili Ria also does non-pempek dishes and they’re all delicious too. My dad likes to order the bakmie ayam (chicken noodles) while I tend to deviate towards the tekwan (noodles in shrimp broth with mini fish cakes).
During winter, the mie tekwan is an instant heart warmer and I love how the broth is so delicate yet complex and tasty at the same time with a hint of sourness for extra flavour.
If you’re looking to expand your Indonesian food repertoire beyond chicken satays and nasi goreng, I highly recommend Famili Ria for their pempek as well as their bakmie ayam and tekwan. Just remember to wear several layers if you’re visiting during Melbourne’s winter months!