Turkish Ice Cream: What Makes It Unique? (Maraş Dondurma)

Cacao, plain and pistachio flavored Turkish ice-cream on plate with knife and fork
Cacao, plain and pistachio flavored Turkish ice cream

Originally published May 17, 2013, updated September 12, 2021

I love my baklava, and I love my lokum (Turkish Delight); but, even more, I love Turkish ice cream (or, dondurma, to the locals)!

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What Makes Turkish Ice Cream Different?

Literally the Turkish word for ‘frozen or freezing’, dondurma is the delicious local rendition of ice cream. A little different from western-style ice-creams, however; traditional Turkish ice cream is sweet, creamy, stretchy, and chewy at the same time. This stretchy texture is thanks to the inclusion of a starchy root of wild orchids called salep.

Salep is a special type of powdered orchid bulb. These orchids are endemic to the Kahramanmaraş region of Turkey and traditional Turkish ice cream dondurma was first made in this city centuries ago.

In addition to salep, the traditional dondurma recipe is based on goat’s milk and sugar.

In some parts of the country, Turkish dondurma is also made with an aromatic resin called gum mastic. This gum mastic is harvested from gum trees grown on the Aegean coast of Turkey and Greece.

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Ingredients of Turkish Dondurma

Many strands of dried orchid root (sahlep) hanging from roof on string at Istanbul spice bazaar
Salep – dried roots of wild orchid
  • Goats milk
  • Sugar
  • Salep (powdered bulbs of wild orchids)
  • Gum mastic (rarely used)

Popular Flavours of Maraş Dondurması

Sade dondurma (plain ice cream) served in baklava

Whether it’s your first time in Istanbul, or you’re a returning visitor, dondurma should be high up on your list of things “all things delicious to eat”! You can find Turkish ice cream dondurma all across the country sold at baklava shops, street vendors, and restaurants.

Turkish ice cream is available in a dizzying array of flavors. But some of the favorites savored by locals (this dondurma-loving blogger included), are plain, pistachio and cocoa.

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Dondurma served on warm künefe

Summertime in Turkey is a haven for ice-cream lovers. Rather than being relegated to cones or bowls only, Turkish ice cream is served as a side to just about everything –

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Tricks of the Trade

Dondurma master is stretching Turkish ice-cream with large paddle
Turkish mastic ice-cream

Buying the ice cream from the local sellers is as much a novelty as eating it. The Fes-capped men wearing traditional robes entertain the buyer (and the crowd) with every sale. You’ll spot them easily, setting up shop in their traditional ice-cream carts and ringing their bells with the long dondurma scoop. On the rare chance that you can’t hear them, you’re sure to see the crowds gathering around: watching and laughing while the cheeky ice-cream sellers trick young and old alike, bypassing the scoop of ice-cream from cone to cone while the buyer’s hand tries eagerly (and fails) to catch it.

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dondurma seller is serving turkish ice cream to a customer

Dondurma is an excellent way to cool down on a hot Istanbul summer afternoon. After your first taste of the creamy, sticky Turkish ice cream, I dare say you’ll make a habit of sampling as many flavors as possible (or, perhaps just your favorite flavor as many times as possible) during your stay.

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Kahramanmaraş Dondurması

Maraş ice cream

The most unique type of Turkish ice cream is known as Maraş dondurması. This rare dessert takes its name from the Kahranmanmaraş region in Southern Anatolia, where it originated.

Have you ever eaten ice cream with a knife and fork before? Maraş dondurma contains more of the stick and thick salep than the standard variety, which gives it a particular resistance to melting. It’s, therefore, generally eaten using cutlery at cafes all around Turkey.

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Ice cream in Winter

Piping hot salep drink with cinnamon

If you’re planning to visit Turkey outside of the summer months, don’t fret! You can easily find dondurma all year round. But, if you find the thought a little too chilly for the weather, try a piping hot cup of salep, instead.

Salep is made from the same ingredients as Turkish ice cream, but served hot and sprinkled with cinnamon. Many Turkish ice-cream stores convert into salep cafes during winter, to accommodate those needing their fix of warm ‘ice-cream’.

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