What’s that smell?
Published/Last edited or updated: 31st May, 2017
Permeating the air in Indonesia, you may have caught the whiff of a sweet spicy aroma proceeded by a crackling sound, the hallmarks of the onomatopoetic named kretek, clove cigarettes, ubiquitously smoked all over the country.
These popular smokes were reportedly first produced in Kudus, 42 kilometres southeast of Jepara, and about 70 kilometres northeast of Semarang, in the late 19th century. Haji Jamhari, suffering from asthma, first found relief by rubbing clove oil on his chest but later tried another way to administer the remedy by mixing the cloves with tobacco wrapped in corn husks and smoking them. Cured of his suffering, the news of his medical treatment soon spread and a market for the clove cigarets was born.
Local businessman Nitisemito began producing the product commercially along with a huge marketing campaign, the popularity of kreteks spread throughout the country which lead him to become the wealthiest Javanese businessman in pre-independence Indonesia, at one time employing more than 15,000 workers at his Kudus factory. Other businesses followed suite and Kudus became known as the centre of kretek production in Indonesia.
You may notice a large sign as you enter the town “Kudus Kota Kretek”—“Kudus, Kretek City”. Today large multinationals have overtaken the smaller factories, but three larger companies still operate in Kudus today: Djarum (who are the major stakeholder in Indonesia’s BCA Bank), Nojorono (famous for “waterproof cigarets”, popular with fishermen) and Sukun. Although most production uses machinery, some kretek are still rolled by hand.
If you are passing through Kudus, it’s worth a quick stop at the small Kretek Museum. Information is labelled in English and Indonesian, and helpful English-speaking staff offer a short tour. The museum covers the history and production of the product from its beginnings with photographs of early factories, dioramas and machinery displayed. Interesting are side products like “tobacco sauce” to make your food taste like cigarettes. One exhibition showcases marketing from the past, mostly logos on crockery, juxtaposed with contemporary marketing, T-shirts, caps, etc. We were drawn to the large (but dusty) collection of packaging.
The grounds of the museum display a beautiful traditional teak joglo, a traditional house from the Kudus area. Asthmatics temped to try this cure, be warned that the excessive tar and nicotine levels in kretek cigarettes have led them to be banned in some countries.
Kudus is enroute between Semarang (also Yogyakarta and Solo) and Jepara, or easily visited on a day trip (closer from Jepara). Combine with a trip to the fascinating Menara Mosque and stop by Rumah Makan Gasasa to try the Garang Asem Ayam for lunch and Omah Mode for a coffee and a swim (30,000 rupiah).
Address: 155 Jalan Getas Pejaten, Kudus, 42 kilometres southeast of Jepara
T: (0291) 440 545;
Coordinates (for GPS): 110º50'16.31" E, 6º49'35.36" S
See position in Apple or Google Maps: Apple Maps | Google Maps
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.