Sate Kere: A Counterculture Cooked by the Poor

When I was solo traveling to Solo or also called Surakarta, in Central Java, Indonesia, the locals suggested me to try Sate Kambing Pak Manto. One of the most delicious lamb satay, they said. Unfortunately, the time I arrived there were already many customers so I should wait in a long line. Feeling bored and already craving for food, I thought that I could get many delicious lamb satay in Bandung anyway—such as ‘Sate Sudirman‘—so I decided to leave. I walked not far away from there until I found an old woman just opening her ‘booth’.

She’s selling satay, I didn’t know exactly what kind of satay she’s offering. There are many kind of satay here in Indonesia. Either from the main ingredients they are using such as chicken satay, lamb satay, and scallop satay to how they’re cooking or grilling it. Not to mention where the satay are originated from because it’s absolutely makes the difference especially in what kind of sauce they’re using.

I ordered the satay then she responded to me in Javanase for almost 15 minutes. Although there are some Javanese blood in my veins, I speak mostly—if not all—in Bahasa Indonesia since I was born. Even my hometown, Cirebon, has its own local language named Cirebonese eventhough there’s still controversy whether it’s a separate language or just another Javanese’s diallect. Therefore I didn’t understand what she were saying, until I saw one of the buyer picked their raw satays by himself so I followed him, then gave it to the seller, wait until she finished grilling it, then finally….the satay was served!

My Satay Kere is ready!

I know from reading an article written by a historian Heri Priyatmoko on There’s a reason why it’s called Satay Kere. Long ago in Dutch Colonialism, only high-status people or so-called ‘the rich’ could afford satay made from lamb or cow beef. Which was only included Dutch and few of Javanese and other ethnicities especially those who hold the power or simply the offsprings of Kings and nobles. Please note that the term of ‘Republic of Indonesia’ wasn’t existed or simply wasn’t widely known yet.

Satay Kere is a counterculture of this. Wong Kere or the poor use their own creativity to make satay from dregs tofu and beef inards that was regarded as a waste by the wealthy people. “Kere” is a Javanese word for ‘Poor’, and this cuisine was made so the poor can also taste the satay like those who had more power. Isn’t it wonderful? How they were coping with such a dreadful system with making their own way to be equal with people ‘above’ them.

The satay was served with sweet and spicy peanut sauce, and ‘ketupat’ or a dumpling made of rice. The thing I remember the most was the texture. It was really soft. The taste of this cuisine reminded me with a satay made from mushroom which is so common for vegan who can’t resist the taste of satay. It was also sweet, common in Javanese cuisine.

It costed me IDR 12.000 which is less than a dollar the time I’m writing this (July 5th 2019). Although I heard some of restaurants selling it with much higher price, especially since last year as this ‘cuisine of the poor’ became so trendy just because it’s one of Joko Widodo’s—The President of Republic of Indonesia —favorite cuisine.

A selfie with Satay Kere seller. Unfortunately I didn’t even had a chance to ask her name.

Poor me. I didn’t have much time to talk to the old woman, which absolutely would be in Bahasa Indonesia. The time after I took the selfie with her there were already new customers waiting for their Satay Kere. I was “kere” of a chance.

So, are you Kere?

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