Indonesian city Palembang embraces Asian Games as golden opportunity

While Jakarta may be staging most of the events at the Asian Games in Indonesia, for the people of cohost Palembang, its smaller share of the spotlight is still a golden opportunity to raise the profile at home and abroad of the South Sumatra city and its food culture.

Banners and posters of the Asian Games, the second biggest multisport event after the Olympics, festoon the capital of the province, more than 400 kilometers from the Indonesian capital. The games, which opened on Saturday, are being held in two cities for the first time ever in the history of the games.

While some venues are empty during unpopular matches at Jakabaring Sport City, an integrated sport city complex that is staging most of the events, those with many Indonesian fan favorites, such as sepak takraw, or kick volleyball, are crowded with locals.

An outdoors rowing venue that hosted several finals was mostly empty, with only a group of spectators sitting in the shaded area in the stands. Japan women’s soccer team has been playing their preliminaries to a nearly-empty stadium with security personnel sitting in the stands.

Sparse crowds at some venues notwithstanding, people in Palembang see the games as a chance for the city to gain in popularity both nationally and internationally, as it is not widely known outside of Indonesia.

Tika Fralita, an employee at a restaurant that serves Palembang’s signature dish «pempek,» hopes the traditional food attracts more foreign guests from around the world to try the savory fish cake delicacy.

Locals eat pempek with a sweet and sour sauce as a snack or part of their meal. At the chain where Fralita works, the shop prepares 1,000 fish cakes a day and they all sell out by closing time.

Businesses related to pempek have been one of the pillars of Palembang’s economy. According to the game organizers, South Sumatra Marine and Fisheries Agency data shows that over 4,000 small businesses making pempek and other fish-related processed products are located in Palembang.

Indonesia’s tourism minister Arief Yahyah also said earlier this month that he hopes to make Palembang a popular shopping destination including culinary tourism focused on pempek.

Pempek Saga Sudi Mampir, where Fralita works, is usually packed with locals of all ages. But because of the Asian Games, it is drawing customers from afar as well.

«Foreign people who come to Palembang want to try it while they are here,» she said.

British tourists who came by her shop called the fish cakes «delicious,» and Fralita hopes the increase in customers will continue even after the games conclude on Sept. 2.

«The dish tastes just like what the visitors might expect, so that may be why it’s getting attention,» she said. «I hope a lot of people come to Palembang even after the Asian Games to eat.»

Out of the 40 sports held at the Asian Games, Palembang is staging 10, including the country’s favorite, sepak takraw, and sport climbing, a new addition to the games as well as to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Palembang had little time to prepare for the tournament since Indonesia only agreed to host the games in 2014 after Vietnam’s Hanoi dropped its bid due to financial setbacks.

Despite having a prior experience of cohosting a multisport tournament with Jakarta at the Southeast Asian Games in 2011, the city had to build several new venues from scratch, including a bowling alley.

Nevertheless, construction of the venues was done in a timely fashion, and light rail transit trains began operation before the games got underway.

Out of around 170,000 foreign tourists who are expected to visit Indonesia during the Asian Games, 30 percent, or around 50,000 people, are expected to step foot in Palembang. The organizers also announced that 7,000 media personnel have registered to cover the event in Palembang.

All — Kyodo News+

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