Dondurma - Gastro Obscura



A rare orchid ingredient makes this ice cream stretchy and chewy.

Should ice cream be smooth and pudding-like, or chewy and stretchy? In Turkey, special ingredients—and a preparation method that involves a metal-rod beatdown—leads to the latter.

Dondurma, which is the Turkish word for “freezing,” refers to the country’s taffy-like ice cream. Apart from the usual milk and sugar, it contains powdered orchid bulbs, known as salep. Using salep makes dondurma thick and firm enough to cut with a fork and knife, as well as slower to melt. A pine resin called mastic sap adds both flavor and extra elasticity. For those who want stretchy ice cream without the evergreen taste, dondurma comes in chocolate and fruit flavors.

The stretchiness also comes from the labors of dondurma vendors, who beat the ice cream with long metal rods and knead it like dough. Residents of Maras, a city in southeastern Turkey, have long made dondurma out of ice from the surrounding snowcapped mountains. Today, though, you can buy a machine that does the beating and kneading for you.

Orchid dondurma is an increasingly local treat, as the orchids used for salep have never been commercially cultivated. Dwindling supply led the Turkish government to ban their export, so dondurma vendors abroad often substitute guar gum or konjac flour, which have a similar, stretchy effect.

Beyond its culinary benefits, chewy ice cream offers the potential for spectacular showmanship. Using slight of hand and misdirection, vendors make a show of twirling blocks of ice cream with metal rods and using decoy cones to snatch back ice cream as they hand it to customers. It’s no stretch to say that the shenanigans can make ordering dondurma a lot of fun.

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Anne Ewbank Anne Ewbank