March 9, 2011

Beyoğlu, Istanbul. June, 2007

Which is more enjoyable? Dondurma, the distinctive ice cream found all over Turkey? Or the theatrical shenanigans enacted by its beckoning vendors? Uniformly dressed in gold-embroidered red vests, the sellers (always men, it seems) churn the sticky stuff with long-handled scoops and then perform a variety of tricks -- up-ending the handle and pretending to drop the cone (it remains stuck to the ice cream) and so on -- mainly to the delight of tourists and mainly German tourists at that. Sticky? Yes, Turkish dondurma is much chewier and more solid (some varieties require a knife and fork) than ice cream found elsewhere owing to the inclusion of two unusual ingredients: salep (a flour made from ground orchid root) and mastic (a resin also found in chewing gum and other Turkish sweets; its main characteristic informs the English word “masticate.”) Maraş dondurması (abbreviated on this young man’s sign), from the Kahramanmaraş region in Southeastern Turkey, is a variety that contains more salep than usual making it much tougher and stickier than what you might be expecting. Not to everyone’s liking, dondurma is worth trying once if only to experience the qualities that distinguish it from other ice creams. And to experience the charms of delightful vendors such as this one on the Istiklal Caddesi.


  1. I was hoping you would have a Dondurma photo, and of course you have one. The most delicious ice cream in the world -- served with the most elaborate ritual involving acrobatics and a little bell -- and it's made from orchids. Orchids take their name from the Greek word "orchis" which means "little boy's testes", and the Ancient Romans made aphrodisiac drinks from salep orchid-root flour which had names like "satyrion" and "priapiscus". Paracelsus wrote, "Behold the Satyrion root! Is it not formed like the male privy parts? Accordingly, magic discovered it and revealed that it can restore a man's virility and passion!" Or why we all scream for Turkish ice cream.

  2. I really want to go to istanbul one day! I hear it's amazing...