Friday, June 27, 2014

The Elastic Ice Cream of Turkey. Dondurma.


I love eating ice cream and I love making ice cream. My recipe is based on an egg custard that is then flavored with whatever ingredients I want to add to it. I go through lengths to make the proper custard so it's as creamy, smooth and silky. That way, my ice cream ends up being creamy, smooth and silky.


On my first trip to Turkey in 2008, I tasted dondurma which is a very unique version of ice cream in that it's actually very elastic-y and chewy.  If you take a bite, you can pull away the cone leaving threads behind - sort of like what happens when you bite into a pizza that is topped with good quality mozzarella.

The recipe for dondurma contains cream, milk and sugar as well as two very unusual ingredients - salep and mastic.

Salep is a flour made from the tubers of wild orchids native to Turkey. These tubers contain a nutritious starch-like polysaccharide called glucomannan which is a thickening agent.  Unfortunately, mass production of dondurma has depleted the country's supply of wild orchids and caused the government to ban their export. 

Mastic is a resin obtained from mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus), a member of the pistachio family. It is the stretching agent, if you will. In Turkey, it is referred to as "damla sakızı", i.e. "droplet gum".

Dondurma is extremely popular and I had my first taste in Istanbul but it wasn't until we arrived in the small seaside town of Fethiye that I had my full blown dondurma buying experience - which you can only have when you buy it from a street vendor.

It was a hot day and the ice cream was the perfect way to cool off.  I didn't know it at the time but I apparently fell for the oldest trick in a dondurma vendors sales manual.  The show begins with the vendor using a 3 foot long spatula to rhythmically beat the ice cream against the side of the bin.  The ice cream in the vats is then stabbed, lifted from the bin in a solid mass and stretched like taffy or pizza dough. Then, the games begin.  I was handed a cone.  An enormous of the ice cream was placed on top.  Of course, I giggled.  That brought on round two which was the guy taking away the blob leaving me with an empty cone.  Then, he placed the blob of dondurma back on the cone and then took the cone away from me.  Again, I giggled.  Then, he put a tablespoons worth of ice cream on the cone and handed it to me.  What???  Of course, that was just more of the show.  By now, I was starting to not be so happy.  END THE TORTURE AND JUST GIVE ME MY ICE CREAM was what I was thinking.  Great minds did think alike and finally he gave me my cone. I can't remember what I paid but it probably more than you would for a cone of plain vanilla ice cream but it factored in the *cost* of entertainment.  In any event, I really enjoyed the dondurma I had in Turkey. 

It is believed that dondurma originated in the Maraş region - we'll be visiting Kahramanmaraş, which is a small city in the region, on our road trip to Mount Nemrut.  We'll definitely be having dondurma there and I will be interested in comparing it to what we will taste in Istanbul.  In Istanbul, my favorite place for dondurma is Mado -  there are several branches, including one that is conveniently located right next to the Sultanahmet tram stop.  Traditional dondurma is vanilla flavored but I have to admit, I prefer other flavors.


Unfortunately, dondurma is not available outside of Turkey - they don't export it.  I've not found it in any of our upscale food markets here so I think the only way for me to have it at home is to make it myself.  To this end, I'm going to be on the look out for both salep and mastic when we hit the Spice market in Istanbul.  Bro might think I'm crazy but hopefully, after he's had his share of the delicious stuff, he'll be on the lookout for these two unusual ingredients as well.  I found a recipe for Dondurma, courtesy of OnePerfectBite, that will be my inspiration for the dondurma base.  Once I perfect the base, I will then have to experiment with flavorings.  Oh.....pistachio dondurma and blackberry dondurma.....and.....it's all good!