Sosialantropologene ved UiO sitt tidsskrift.

Kitchen Behind Tourism Industry: Case study of Gudeg Seller in Yogyakarta

By Aura Cubanimita. Master student, Anthropology, Gadjah Mada Univesity, Yogyakarta-Indonesia.

I used to go to the traditional market in the mornings on my day-off. In addition to buy fresh groceries, I also stopped to buy some breakfast. Among the many foods that I can find in traditional markets of my hometown Yogyakarta, which is the cultural centre of the island Java of Indonesia, gudeg become one of the dishes that I easily found. Gudeg is Javanese traditional dish made by young jackfruit cooked slowly until turning brown. Gudeg is served with rice and side dish, for instance chicken, egg, and sambal krecek (cow skin cooked with chilli paste. Gudeg is famous for its sweet, savoury, and spicy taste. In Yogyakarta it can be found easily around the city on various scale stall, from the simplest stall on the roadside until fancy restaurants. There is an interesting thing for me since I encountered gudeg sellers are mostly women. Rarely do I find man as gudeg seller. This phenomenon became the background for put Javanese women and gudeg as a discourse in this paper. Especially since I grow up in Yogyakarta, as Javanese woman.

Javanese Gender Role 

For Javanese, woman is a “kitchen`s soul”. Kitchen is an area where daily activities begin, food for whole family. This is already emphasized in Javanese culture. It divides man and woman’s roles, especially on family. A patriarchy concept is shown by Javanese terminology for wife as konco wingking (backside companion). Wife has three obligatory positions, to cook, to give birth, and to dress up. From its term, woman accepts her working area in domestic, specifically as housewife. She obligates to take care all of household needed and children. However, there is also egalitarian concept that looks woman as sigaran nyawa (soul mate), husband`s partner (Handayani, Chistina and Ardhian Novianti, 2012).

The patriarchal concept is not absolute; this concept applies sakprayogyanigipun, which means ideal concept. Thus, the Javanese put forward the concept gumantung kahanan, meaning conditional circumstances (Handayani, Chistina and Ardhian Novianti, 2012). This is where the negotiation between Javanese women and men, she has bargaining position even though women are still expected to be discreet in public. Negotiation is not only about woman itself but also how the family will be formed, how the children will be educated, including the possibility for women to earn additional money to help her husband. In other words, actually Javanese family was familiar with woman’s discharge to the public area in context of seeking additional income.

A few women in Yogyakarta have already proved it. In fact, they support Yogyakarta’s tourism industry. They are gudeg restaurant’s workers who spread around Yogyakarta. Tens to hundred workers, mostly women work from morning. They prepared herbs, spices, squeeze coconut to produce coconut milk, slice a lot of young jackfruit.

Today, gudeg is not just common dish but turning into signature dish of Yogyakarta. It is one of the authentic dishes from Yogyakarta that attracts a big number of tourists. There are two main areas of gudeg restaurant in Yogyakarta. First in Wijilan street, located near tourism area, Yogyakarta`s Kingdom. There are about 17 gudeg restaurants on various scales in Wijilan Street. Second in Barek village, about 5 km northern from city centre has about three big restaurants. A row of gudeg restaurants establish along the road. Roads and restaurant are always full of customers, especially on the holiday season or weekend.

Interestingly, those restaurants use same words in their names. Yu or Bu, which have become benchmark. Yu came from mbakyu, Javanese word to say elder sister, and bu came from Javanese word Ibu, translating to mam. Mostly, gudeg restaurants use word Yu or Bu on their restaurant nameplate, such as Yu Narni, Yu Djum, Bu Lies, Bu Ahmad, Bu Tjitro, etc, refers into owner names. Yu Narni, Yu Djum, or Bu Ahmad started their enterprise from their place as Javanese woman in the kitchen. Gudeg was created on the hot and crowded kitchen by woman and evidently has another impact in addition to reach profit. From this we can draw some conclusions.

First, the woman, who appears in the call-name seller, yu and bu become character of gudeg. The gudeg seller success made up trust between seller and customer, so the customer believes that gudeg that made by certain bu or yu is the most delicious and authentic. Second, the gudeg enterprise did by bu and yu turned out to a place for other Javanese woman to work outside the home. Bu and Yu are role models for other Javanese woman to negotiate within their household to work outside the home; when negotiations between the women and men come to terms.

Woman as Secondary Earner

Early assertion of the liberal feminism in the 19th century was an equality of opportunity for women. They see man and woman as equal and have same opportunity regard have same rationality. It began on education equality, and then evolved into a political and economic equality. Particularly, on economic aspect, Harriet Taylor mentioned,


I analyse Taylor`s thesis as a form of European women “resistance”, at that time. She pushed woman, especially upper-class women who been discredited by public judgement that saw women as weak, spoiled, dependent on husbands or fathers and even stupid creature. Based on this anxiety, she and other liberal feminists encouraged women awareness of their rights to get education, political right, and economics. She tried to aware woman that they can be more “worthy” and has more bargaining position by work, no matter how it results (Tong, 2009).

But, women from lower classes had another consciousness. They had to work in terms to help family financial. Later, they absorbed into the industry area with the consequences of gender discrimination. One of the most common forms of gender discrimination is that working women only seen as helper of her husband, father, or brothers. This discrimination is supported by biological conditions, mostly pregnant and menstruating. Women earn less because they have high abscess due to marriage or pregnancy, or because she seen just as helper of her husband, brother, or father.

In context of Yu and bu of gudeg sellers are women who have to work outside the home pushed by family financial. In a way, they choose a job close to her world as a Javanese woman, cooking. They do not work in a factory or industry, and are not as aware of the potential for discrimination, but that their work did not disrupt their function in the home. They have more freedom to regulate working hours, location, and how much money to earn.

At the end, these women cannot be seen only as “additional player” merely, to help their husbands. They bear family financial. It proved, since a lot of gudeg enterprise in Yogyakarta involving other family members, even has been passed down from generation to generation.


Christina Handayani and Ardhian Novianto. (2011). Kuasa Wanita Jawa. Yogyakarta: LKiS.

Tong, R. (2009). Feminist Thought. A More Comprehensive Intro. Philadelphia: Westview Press.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: