The dondurma is a Turkish ice cream that does not melt easily and holds its shape easily
By Aney Mathew

It’s tasty, it’s thick and incredibly stretchy; it can be cut with a knife and eaten with a fork! Who would say it’s an ice cream? What’s more, the Turkish ice cream or dondurma, as it is traditionally called, doesn’t melt easily — it holds its shape so well, that it can be enjoyed slowly even on a hot, summer’s day without the fear of it melting and dribbling down your cone!
Turkey offers several flavours to excite your palette. While its cuisine is widely praised for its diversity, one culinary item that stands apart is the dondurma (literally Turkish for “freezing”); its taste and stretchy texture  have earned it a different status when compared to the commercially produced ice creams.
So, how stretchy is Turkish ice cream? It is so pliable that it would give any decent chewing gum a run for its money. Make no mistake though, it certainly doesn’t taste or feel like chewing gum; the traditional dondurma is soft and creamy and certainly a ‘cool’ cut about the rest.
Dondurma is sold on carts by street vendors in Turkey and also at stores. The ice cream mixture is regularly churned with long-handled metal paddles to keep it workable and stretchy.
Dressed in traditional attire, vendors attract and delight customers especially tourists, by playing all kind of tricks with their long paddle and a chunk of dondurma. The ice cream is so flexible in their hands that they can fashion it into diverse shapes; it wouldn’t be surprising to spot a hawker drawing out the dondurma into a long rope that people can skip with!
The good news of course, is that you don’t have to travel to Turkey to try this unusual ice cream. Community visited one of the most famous dondurma producers in Qatar, to give our readers a closer insight, into this remarkable delight.
 “The origin of the dondurma goes back to 300 to 500 years approximately. When you say ‘ice cream’ in Turkey, you mean Maras ice cream. The region of Kahraman Maras (or Maras for short), is often referred to as the capital of ice cream in Turkey. So naturally, the best ice cream is the Maras dondurma,” explains Salahattin Gunenc, the Restaurant Manager of MADO Turkey, a Turkish outlet at The Pearl. MADO is so well known for its Maras dondurma, that their menu begins with dondurma and desserts!
“What makes the dondurma distinct in flavour and texture is the use of goat’s milk and salep – a powder from the root of wild orchids indigenous to Maras. Salep — a famous winter Turkish drink is another product that uses this powder. Baklava, the most famous Turkish dessert is best eaten with the Maras Dondurma,” Salahattin adds, highlighting the significance of the dondurma to the Turkish palette.
The genesis of this unusual ice cream is quite a story by itself. It is all said to have begun with the accidental formulation of karsambac — a summer drink, made from well-preserved, flavoured snow from the nearby mountains.
The creation of the karsambac, the availability of the rare salep and an abundant supply of free goat’s milk thanks to the generosity of a successful, local goat farmer, soon resulted in the invention of the dondurma — a  dessert that literally stretches the imagination. Even today, real Maras dondurma is made using only goat milk.
As we sit listening to Salahattin, our conversation is suddenly interrupted by the sound of pounding, from the other side of the restaurant. Mustafa Cebeli, the Patisserie Chef at MADO is busy preparing another batch of dondurma for expectant customers. Within a few minutes of pounding a small loaf-sized slab of ice cream with his long-handled paddle, the product seems to have increased in size several times. Mustafa picks up this gigantic glob of ice cream easily and holds it up effortlessly with no danger of it falling off his paddle or melting down – it just doesn’t behave like ice cream!
After about 20 minutes of ‘hammering’ there’s another surprise waiting; the ice cream is now a white stretchy mass — it bears no more resemblance to an ice cream! We watch fascinated as he proceeds to demonstrate the flexibility of the dondurma, pulling, stretching and twisting it, seemingly enjoying the process.
The ice cream (it seems odd calling it that, at this stage), can now be moulded into any shape and it seems to retain its contour quite firmly. As a final step of the display, Mustafa decides to have some more fun. He proceeds to fill a cone with a generous chunk of ice cream, ready to serve, using his extra-long paddle. And just as Salahattin reaches out to take it, Mustafa twists and twirls his paddle, deftly wielding the ice cream away from him, demonstrating the various tricks a street vendor would typically play on an unsuspecting customer.
The dondurma is available in a variety of flavours. For instance, MADO produces 50 different flavours, including some favourites that incorporate seasonal fruits, exclusive to the season.
Besides the cone, ‘kesme dondurma’ is another interesting way of serving the dondurma. The ice cream is formed into log shapes and cut into thick slices. Portions of various flavours are then served on a cold marble slab, placed atop dry ice. The kesme dondurma has to be cut with a knife and eaten with a fork as it cannot be scooped up with a spoon!
Ice cream by any other name is still as delightful, but the dondurma holds its own. So the next time you seek respite from the summer heat, how about a Maras dondurma?

Historical dondurma
As distinct as its taste and texture, is the origin of this unique ice cream from Turkey. Salahattin a Turk himself, gives a rather interesting insight into the history of the dondurma.
“The hometown of the dondurma is Maras, a city, located South East of Turkey. Although it has a warm climate in the summer, Maras is blessed with mountains all around. The highest mountain — Ahir Dagi, has snow all year around. Centuries before electricity was invented and refrigerators were used, the natives of this city found a way to preserve and use ice during the harsh, summer months.
“The local goat farmers would regularly take their flock to Ahir Dagi for fodder, as the mountain was lush with vegetation especially thyme, which resulted in the goat’s milk having a richer flavour. Through their many ascents up this mountain, they gradually found a way of preserving snow by covering it with brushwood. It is also said they sometimes carried the snow into caves and covered it with the leave and brushwood to preserve it better.
“During the hot summer months, they would climb the mountain to bring back the snow on mules; they proceeded to mix it with grape molasses, honey or fruit juice and soon a delightful, cold dessert named Karsambac was born. The Karsambac turned out to become a highly sought-after, cool treat to welcome guests with during the harsh summer. The product was so popular that it soon became a business for locals in the various districts of Maras city; they would bring down the preserved snow from the mountains and store it in earthen pots, ready for sale in the neighbourhood.
 “Around this time, there was a rich rancher, who had several goat farms on the slopes of the Ahirdagi mountain, as the climate and flora were ideal for raising goats. His goat farm thrived so successfully, that he found himself having an excess of goat’s milk. Magnanimous at heart, he decided to build a marble canal from the Ahir Dagi mountain right down to the city centre, to supply the milk free to the natives of the area.
“Incidentally the area is also renowned for the salep – a wild orchid indigenous to Maras. Now as a series of happy coincidences, the people of Kahraman Maras had karsambac from the snow, creamy goat’s milk and the salep. It was only a matter of time before they learned to combine these special products together and the rest is literally history,” narrates Salahattin smiling.

Save the Salep!
The popularity of the Maras Dondurma has naturally meant a high demand for the salep root. Since salep orchids have not been successfully cultivated yet, it has resulted in a decline in their population. Although they are now under protection, a limited amount is still being picked up from the mountains. Each orchid has a few roots. The traditional method of collecting the roots, ensures not all the roots are removed; a few roots are left underground to ensure the continued growth of the orchid plant. The government has however slapped a ban on the export of salep to reduce their decline.

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