Jakarta. Wearing a light blue shirt, 84-year-old Buntoro Kurniawan lays back in his rattan chair inside the Ragusa ice cream restaurant on Jalan Veteran, Central Jakarta, on Tuesday (10/04) as he recounts how his family happened to acquire the legendary ice cream parlor from a bunch of Sicilians.
Ragusa is the name of an ancient city in Sicily, Italy. The Ragusa brothers, who opened up the original ice cream place in the old Gambir Market nearby, were tailors who moved to Batavia – the tempo doeloe name for Jakarta – to work at a sewing company.
Buntoro’s father also worked in the same office, and he became friends with the four Italians – Luigi, Vincenzo, Pascuale and Francisco.
Buntoro said the Ragusa brothers' tailoring business had done so well that they decided to venture into other businesses.
Luigi happened to know a Dutch widow in Batavia who owned a cow farm, so he suggested to his brothers that they should open an ice cream parlor where they could use milk from the farm.
And so the Ragusa legend began in 1932.
Buntoro, a man of Chinese descent, is related to the Ragusa brothers by marriage.
Sias Mawarni, his older sister, was a cashier at the Ragusa cafe and later got married to the youngest of the siblings, Francisco.
Buntoro worked as a school teacher for 11 years before he was reeled in to help run Ragusa.
In 1950, the Ragusa brothers ended up leaving the now famous ice cream joint in his care.
Even though Ragusa is known as an Italian ice cream place, Buntoro said they don't actually make gelato.
"Our recipe is not far off from Es Doger [the traditional Indonesian coconut milk and shaved ice drink]. To make Es Doger, you surround the outer side of a bowl with ice and salt, and in the middle, you put in ice, syrup, coconut, all the works, then mix everything by hand. We do the same thing with our ice cream, but instead of putting ice on the outside, we use antifreeze," Buntoro said.
Buntoro said Ragusa still uses a 60-year-old ice cream mixer that has been discontinued a long time ago. This is the reason why the cafe has never opened a branch.
Ragusa Es Italia (Italian Ice) serves classic flavors like vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, but is most famous for their nougat and spaghetti ice cream.
The "spaghetti" is made up entirely of ice cream, topped off with dark chocolate and dried fruit bits.
The ice cream is smooth and creamy, but also very light. Those with sensitive throats will love it.
Ragusa Es Italia — with its rickety ceiling fans, rattan chairs, sepia photos on the walls and ceramic bowls — is trapped in time, but Jakartans love it for that very reason.
"People come here for the nostalgia. We've never changed our interior, our chairs, or our menu – they love that," Buntoro said.
"One of my customers once told me to never renovate the place as these old walls are the same walls she and her husband often stared at while they were dating," he said.
Buntoro chuckled as he pointed out that four Italian immigrants from Sicily had shaped what Indonesians think of proper ice cream.
"Our regulars know that if they want to eat real ice cream, they'll come to Ragusa. Each bowl of ice cream we serve here is freshly made, just taken from the kitchen or the mixer," the old man said.
Address: Jalan Veteran I No. 10, Gambir, Central Jakarta.
Opening hours: 10 a.m. - 10:30 p.m.