A Full Guide to Dondurma: Unraveling the Secrets of Turkey’s Iconic Ice Cream

Discover the tantalizing world of Turkish dondurma, a stretchy and chewy ice cream delight. Learn about its unique ingredients, regional flavors, and must-visit shops in this comprehensive guide to Turkey’s beloved frozen treat.

So, let us journey together through bustling bazaars, charming street-side carts, and modern dessert parlors to uncover the irresistible charm of dondurma – and who knows, by the end of our voyage, you might even be inspired to seek out your own taste of this delectable Turkish delight.

Turkish ice cream in a cub coffee

I. Introduction

Picture yourself strolling through the bustling streets of Istanbul, when suddenly you stumble upon a mesmerizing dance between a mustachioed man in a waistcoat and a stretchy, yet unbelievably tasty frozen dessert: dondurma. This unique Turkish ice cream has been captivating hearts, minds, and taste buds for centuries, and today we embark on a delectable journey to discover the secrets behind this delightful treat.

A. Brief history of dondurma

Dondurma, which means “freezing” in Turkish, is believed to have originated in the early 17th century during the Ottoman Empire. Over the years, this tantalizing treat has become a symbol of Turkish culture and a source of national pride.

B. The uniqueness of Turkish ice cream

Unlike your typical Western ice cream, dondurma boasts a distinct stretchy, chewy texture. This is thanks to two magical ingredients: salep and mastic. The combination of these ingredients with the traditional churning process creates a truly unique frozen experience.

C. The cultural significance of dondurma

In Turkey, dondurma is more than just a dessert; it’s a rite of passage, a bonding experience, and a testament to the country’s rich history. From local street vendors to upscale dessert parlors, dondurma is enjoyed by people from all walks of life.

Ice cream in cappadocia

II. The Magical Ingredient: Salep

Orchid root powderTree resin
Gives dondurma its stretchy textureAdds a subtle pine-like flavor

A. What is salep and its role in dondurma

Salep, derived from the dried and ground roots of wild orchids, is a key component of dondurma’s stretchy texture. The starchy powder acts as a natural thickening agent, giving the ice cream its unique elasticity. Mastic, a resin obtained from the mastic tree, contributes to the chewiness and imparts a subtle pine-like flavor.

Walnut ice cream

B. The traditional process of making salep

The process of making salep is labor-intensive and time-consuming, as wild orchids must be handpicked, washed, and dried before being ground into a fine powder. This attention to detail is what makes dondurma a true labor of love.

C. Sustainability concerns and alternatives

Due to the increasing demand for salep, wild orchids are at risk of overharvesting. To address this issue, some dondurma makers are turning to alternative thickeners like konjac flour and guar gum. While these substitutes may not provide the exact same texture as salep, they ensure that the tradition of dondurma can continue without sacrificing sustainability.

Turkish ice cream dondurma

III. The Art of Dondurma: Stretchy, Chewy, and Unbelievably Tasty

A. Techniques used in making dondurma

Making dondurma is an art form in itself, involving a combination of traditional churning and theatrical flair. The process begins with the ingredients being mixed together and heated. The mixture is then churned by hand using a long metal rod called a dondurma çubuğu. This laborious technique ensures a smooth and consistent texture, while also incorporating air to create that unforgettable stretchiness.

Making dondurma

B. The performance aspect of serving dondurma

A visit to a dondurma stand is not just about savoring the ice cream, but also about enjoying the spectacle. Vendors, known as dondurmacı, use long metal paddles to stretch, fold, and twirl the dondurma, adding a touch of showmanship to the experience. It’s not uncommon for the dondurmacı to playfully tease customers by lifting the ice cream high above their heads or swiftly whisking it away just as they’re about to take a bite.

C. The role of dondurma in Turkish culture

Dondurma serves as a delicious reminder of Turkey’s rich history and cultural traditions. Whether enjoyed on a hot summer day or as a post-meal treat, dondurma is a beloved staple that brings people together with its unique taste and texture.

IV. A Tour of Dondurma Delights: Flavors to Savor

A. Maaras dondurma: The gold standard

Originating in the city of Kahramanmaraş (often abbreviated as Maraş), maaras dondurma is considered the crème de la crème of Turkish ice cream. This renowned variety boasts a heavenly balance of creaminess, stretchiness, and flavor.

Turkish Ice cream

B. Regional flavors and their significance

  • Ayva (quince) and ceviz (walnut): This fruity and nutty combination is a nod to Turkey’s agricultural richness, celebrating the bounty of its orchards and groves.
  • Sade (plain): A minimalist approach that allows the ice cream’s natural flavor and texture to shine.
  • Osmanli Macunu (Ottoman paste): Osmanlı Macunu is a traditional Turkish sweet that was prepared for medicinal purposes during the Ottoman Empire. It is made by boiling a mixture of sugar, water, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, hibiscus, lemon, mint and orange.
Pistachio ice cream

C. The global influence of dondurma

As Turkish expats and travelers bring their love for dondurma to new shores, the frozen treat is gaining popularity in major cities around the world. From New York City’s inventive twists on the classic to the rise of dondurma-inspired desserts in Europe, this delectable Turkish delight is leaving its mark on the global culinary scene.

Cappadocia mountains looks like ice cream

V. Must-Visit Dondurma Shops: A Frozen Adventure Awaits

A. Ali Usta’s in Istanbul: A century of ice cream perfection

Located in Istanbul’s Moda neighborhood, Ali Usta’s has been churning out unforgettable dondurma since the early 20th century. With its perfect balance of flavors and textures, Ali Usta’s is a must-visit for any ice cream enthusiast.

B. Mado: A modern take on the classic maaras dondurma

With branches in Turkey and around the globe, Mado offers a contemporary spin on traditional maaras dondurma. Their extensive menu features both classic and inventive flavors, ensuring there’s something for everyone.

C. Dondurma Dukkani in New York: Bringing Turkish delights to the Big Apple

Located in the heart of Brooklyn, Dondurma Dukkani serves up authentic Turkish ice cream with a side of New York City flair. Their rotating menu of flavors, paired with their friendly and knowledgeable staff, make this shop a must-visit for anyone craving a taste of Turkey in the Big Apple.

D. The hidden gem: A local’s secret spot

No visit to Turkey would be complete without a trip to a local dondurmacı for a taste of authentic, handmade dondurma. Ask around for recommendations, and you’re sure to discover a hidden gem that offers an unforgettable ice cream experience.

Turkish dondurma

VI. Final Scoop: The Irresistible Charm of Dondurma

As we conclude our journey through the world of dondurma, it’s clear that the appeal of this unique frozen treat lies in its rich history, cultural significance, and unparalleled taste and texture. In an age of commercial ice creams, dondurma stands out as a symbol of tradition and craftsmanship.

So next time you find yourself craving a frosty dessert, why not embark on your own dondurma adventure and experience the magic for yourself


  1. What is dondurma
    Dondurma is a unique type of Turkish ice cream known for its stretchy, chewy texture and rich flavors. It has been a popular dessert in Turkey for centuries and is now gaining popularity worldwide.
  2. What makes dondurma different from other ice creams
    Dondurma’s distinct texture is due to two key ingredients: salep and mastic. Salep, a powder made from wild orchid roots, gives the ice cream its stretchiness, while mastic, a tree resin, contributes to its chewiness.
  3. What are some popular flavors of dondurma
    Some popular flavors of dondurma include maaras (the gold standard), ayva (quince) and ceviz (walnut), sade (plain), and Osmanli Macunu (Ottoman paste).
  4. Where can I try authentic dondurma
    Authentic dondurma can be found in Turkey at local street vendors, small ice cream shops, and upscale dessert parlors. Notable shops include Ali Usta’s in Istanbul, Mado, and Dondurma Dukkani in New York.
  5. What is the cultural significance of dondurma
    Dondurma holds a special place in Turkish culture, serving as a symbol of the country’s rich history and traditions. From its origins in the Ottoman Empire to its role in modern-day Turkey, dondurma is a beloved treat that brings people together.
Abdullah Habib
Abdullah Habib

Merhaba! I'm Abdullah Habib. In this article, I share the essence of my 7-year journey in Turkey - as an expat and foreign student. With a heart full of stories and a mind rich with insights from my experiences, I've written this piece just for you. So, without further ado, sit back, relax, and enjoy the read!

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