The Stretchy Antics of Turkish Ice Cream

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Ever had chewy ice cream?  Or eaten  it with a knife and fork?

You’ll need to go to Istanbul to find this delicious, and mischievous dessert. 

 Dondurma, the Turkish version of ice cream, acts more like taffy than the soft pudding-like dessert most of us grew up with.  Along with coming in many colors and flavors, it’s stretchy.

 Vendors have fun with this.  Be prepared to be teased. Using long handled scoops, men in colorful vests pretend to hand you your cone, but  pull away, twirl, and generally make you reach several times before handing it over. (search for ‘Turkish Ice Cream’ on to see some examples.)

 The main road of Istiklal Caddesi has so many Dondurma vendors that they form the ‘Ice Cream District.’  Both tourists and locals jam the streets, often holding up traffic.

Can you make this unique dessert at home?  Probably not.  The secret is in hard hand whisking, and two really hard to find  ingredients. 

 The first ingredient is gum from the rare mastic tree,  Pistacia lentiscus. This rough-barked tree  grows around 38 degrees north, in two small areas on both the east and west sides of the Agean Sea. Tree farmers cut tiny slits in the bark, then collect the sun-dried drops of sap that fall from the tree. Fortunately for Turkish ice cream makers, mastic trees are being re-planted in large plantations.

 The second ingredient may disappear soon.  It’s salep, a powder made by grinding the dried roots of  the wild Early Purple Orchid.  The Ottoman Turkish Empire spread the plant, which the Greeks and Romans also considered an aphrodisiac. Salep gathering originated in the south-eastern Turkish city of Kahraman-Maraş, so the stretchy ice cream is also known as Maras Ice cream. 

 It takes 1000 orchid plant roots to make one kilogram of Salep.  Despite government regulations, Salep is now so over-harvested that the price of the orchid root flour has sky-rocketed – making it doubly susceptible to poachers.

Despite salep’s growing rarity, Turks devour a huge amount of their special ice cream. If chemists ever develop a suitable substitute for Salep, you just might be able to make your own in your own kitchen.

 But for now,  you have to travel to Turkey to try the stretchy ice cream called Dondurma. 

 And remember — in Istanbul, it’s OK to play with your food.

One note to tourists – Like any big city with street performers, Istanbul has pickpockets.  Dondurma booths are so much fun to watch that Turkish pickpockets find easy pickings among the audience.  Keep an eye on your wallet.

Many thanks to Sandy Huff, Contributing Footloose Editor.

Sandy has traveled to 58 countries and is part of Journeywoman who has  connected 65,000 women in over 200 countries through. With an impressive  1 million hits annually and over 20,000 Twitter Followers, Journeywoman fills a great niche for women travelers.

Laura Raymond, Editor

Destination Cuisine

Posted October 11, 2012

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About the author

Laura Raymond

Laura Raymond is a Serial Entrepreneur, avid recipe developer and Modern Marketing Guru carving my niche in the food and travel industries, mobile marketing and online ordering. Specializing in Engagement Marketing and putting business owners back in control. Destination Cuisine is my passion to bring foodie events, culinary tours, cooking classes and cool restaurants/hotels together in an interactive site. Reach me at (941) 809-2012. Join our CULTure so you can... Eat Well and Live Full.



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