Celebrating Indonesia's Independence Day Through Its Culinary
To celebrate Indonesian Independence Day, Indonesian Institute of Advanced International Studies (INADIS) team consisting of three senior researchers (Aldrin Sampeliling, Serevinna Dewita, and Valerian Timothy) and two interns (Jazzlyne Gunawan and Raditya Rahim) went to restaurants that exist before 17 August 1945. This is a part of our way in telling the story about how diverse Indonesia is by hearing the story from innovators and individuals who dedicated themselves for Indonesia and preserving Indonesian diversity through their passion and specialties. Not only how they preserve but also how to succeed in this competitive industry will help Indonesia to grow. Ragusa Es Italia and Soto Betawi H. Ma’ruf are some of the stories how both owners unite people from different backgrounds through their products. Indonesia was not built by one entity, rather, many entities built it until what we have now; not an easy task indeed–slowly but surely we will endure the responsibility to embrace Indonesian diversity.
Ragusa Es Italia – The Story Behind the Success
On Monday, 31 July 2018, we visited Ragusa Es Italia, the oldest most prominent Ice Cream parlour in Indonesia. Belonging to the Ragusa brothers (Italia Vincenzo Ragusa, Luigi Ragusa) the shop on Jalan Veteran I No. 10 has been standing since 1972, but it tells a tale of one going much further back – one before the 17 August 1945, when Indonesia gained its independence. It initially began its business in a small cattle farm in Bandung, where their market grew from what was then sold in a cattle farm (Jalan Naripan), then moved to Hotel Savoy, Bandung; and then before moving in to Jln. Veteran, in a moving stall (Gerobak kaki lima) in Pasar Gambir, Monas.
Entering the shop immediately transports you to the era of your parents’; when they used to tell you stories beginning with ‘when I was your age’ – when you were five. The short wooden chairs, ceramic-tiled floors, and hand-painted patterned walls truly contribute to the 1940s ambience. The shop’s exterior itself doesn’t stand out much, apart from the fact that it gets exceptionally busy during the weekends, as the whole aisle of shops project those of the older buildings in the country.
The ice cream parlour is now run by an Indonesian of Chinese descent, Ibu Hj. Sias Mawarni and her husband, Pak Buntoro Kurniawan (Yo Boen Kong). They are believers of Islamic faith, and are practitioners of the religion. Ibu Sias wears the Hijab on a day to day basis, and alluded to the incident of 1998 which targeted the Chinese minority, and mentioned how her community urged her to use the Hijab to protect herself. She said how she truly felt safe, and felt it was right for her ever since, and has yet to take off her hijab since then. Upon meeting Ibu Sias for the interview, she greeted us with the utmost hospitality, immediately gesturing for us to have a seat where she then ordered an array of selection from the menu for us – where she was just occupied with teaching a young girl Mandarin upon our arrival. She then began her story.
The initial Ragusa menu from the Italian brothers only consisted of the classic, basic ice cream scoops with the flavours vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and pistachio. But upon Ibu Sias’ travels and exposure to the global and changing world, she added additional options as her way of innovating and keeping Ragusa in fashion. The menu had all the pictures of the ice-cream options sold, and upon being served our orders [Banana Split, Cassata Siciliana, and the Spaghetti Ice Cream). The tastes varied, but what was most distinct was how all the ice cream melted pretty quickly and had very different texture to typical ice cream where it wasn’t at all creamy, but is fluffy and has the exact amount of sweetness making it enjoyable and not addictive. According to Ibu Sias, she aims to preserve the authenticity of the shop, both in terms of design and taste. Her success in doing so is parallel to the success she has achieved in constantly having the shop packed with visitors, as the machinery, ingredients and process of creating the treat have not changed in the slightest.
Ibu Sias uses the success of Ragusa as platform to invite and give shelter to less-fortunate children, where she provides them refuge and uses the venue to teach classes comprising of mainly the Mandarin language, as she herself is an experienced teacher and holds a degree in Mandarin. Ibu Sias attributed her success to her passion and constant prioritizing of this good-deed she has been practicing, and of constantly being hospitable to her guests of multiple nationalities, but mainly being able to speak Chinese, and spreading the business through word of mouth. She told us how through her exposure from Ragusa, she was able to accommodate and deliver her values and vision for Indonesia’s development. Such as in modern ice-cream parlours and pizzeria’s in the city, bringing about attempts to invite and educate children about the process of producing these delicacies, Ragusa has also invited children to come and see the process of ice-cream making. The photos are very proudly displayed above their cashier counter in the store on Jalan Veteran.
In terms of preserving consistency through the decades, Ibu Sias expressed how she has been struggling to obtain the machines that Ragusa uses to create their famous ice cream. The ice-cream machines in use now on Jalan Veteran are the remaining 3 left out of the multiple (20+) that the shop possessed since the 1970s, which unfortunately was burnt down due to the 1998 massacre/incident in Jakarta and around Indonesia 20 years ago. However, as it is now a rarity and was produced in Germany, the plan of expanding the store is facing obstacles. Ibu Sias is also very cautious with the production of Ragusa Ice Cream as she is aware of the dangers of modern-day mass-produced ‘butter’ (soft-serve) ice cream, and is against any form of converting Ragusa’s to such a product. Understanding that her words would be published in written text, she requested us to place her aspirations for Ragusa and the vision that she has for youths in Indonesia. Her vision is for the next generation to keep Indonesia in their hearts, and with whatever they plan on doing with their lives – remember to always give back to the community that raised them, and contribute to its development.
Soto Betawi H. Ma’ruf, Preserving Authenticity
The journey continued after we visited Ragusa Es Italia which was interesting. Our empty stomachs were filled a bit because of the ice cream we had. We arrive at Soto Betawi H. Ma’ruf in Taman Ismail Marzuki, Jakarta. It was the first time for me and perhaps some of the team members to visit the place which I believe was quite vintage considering the Rumah Joglo was still authentic since the 80s. Soto Betawi is one of the main cuisines originated from Jakarta. The coconut milk blended perfectly with meat cubes and sliced potatoes which will make a clear distinction with other soto. It pushed us to try one of the most popular Soto Betawi in Jakarta.
We arrived just about the lunch time and the place was almost full of customers. The thing we realized once we enter the place was the fact that we barely saw younger people in the restaurant. Such situation was hardly found anywhere else in Jakarta. Without any hesitation, we ordered Soto Betawi, Chicken and Goat Satay, and Laksa Betawi. Once the food arrived, we tried the food and realize another strange feeling with the Soto Betawi which the taste was quite plain or not as strong as other Soto Betawi we ever tried. It pushed us to asked Mufti Ma’ruf the third generation of the family who runs the business about the experience we had and he made it clear that most the customers mostly are 30s above and it came with a reason–it is because Soto Betawi Ma’ruf is still using the same ingredients and recipe since the 40s. Authenticity and consistency are the factors that make the restaurant can survive in this industry where now innovations and creative ideas proposed by Millennials occurred–even he mentioned about innovation can lead to a failure in certain circumstances. These reasons answered why most of the customers are older people and the food taste plain because the originality of the Soto betawi never change.
Before we left the place, we asked Mufti about the challenges and how can restaurants survive in this era where innovation is the key. He said, the soto betawi in his place is considered expensive by some of the people because it is about 42.000 IDR. However, one thing we realized were the big meat cubes inside it. The meat cubes inside the soto tell us what makes the price is higher than the other. He explained about how the meat is processed; and knowing the fact that he only used 30% of the total meat because it will shrink during the boiling process. This particular restaurant was visited by states officials–from a Governor to Presidents. The photographs of them were hanged on the wall and we can see it clearly. Their visits indeed showing how the officials still want to preserve Indonesian culture and culinary. Before ending our conversation with Mufti, he hopes that the government should care of the existing traditional food, beverages, and arts in order to preserve Indonesian culture which will extinct eventually if the government cannot help this industry–not only from the business side but also to maintain the heritage and the witness of Indonesia’s journey.
Upon hearing the two anecdotes from the individuals – Ibu Hj.Sias Mawarni and Bapak Haji & Mufti Ma’ruf – who have devoted their efforts and commitment in maintaining the authenticity and history of the country’s heritage through these delicacies and cuisines, there is a greater understanding of the importance of message want to spread. What the two have in common is that they both have a genuine desire to preserve and sustain the heart and soul of what our ancestors have brought on to create the developed and modern Indonesia we now know and live in, despite the hardships they had to endure and the changing climate of their focus in the food industry.
The two texts were written by Jazzlyne Gunawan (Ragusa Es Italia – The Story Behind the Success) and Raditya Rahim (Soto Betawi H. Ma’ruf, Preserving Authenticity), both interns at the Indonesian Institute of Advanced International Studies (INADIS) for the purpose of remembrance and celebration of Indonesia’s national Independence day on the 17th of August 1945, and the people who have contributed to the formation and growth of the country today.