Sunday, February 10, 2013

Kahramanmaraş Dondurması - The Ice Cream that Seemingly Defies Physics

Many Turkish towns and cities are known for what they produce -Malatya for its apricots, Gaziantep for baklava, and Adana for its kebabs.  Kahramanmaraş is famous for its ice cream.

Just a regular, ol' slice of Maras ice cream - served plain and simple with a sprinkling of pistachio and some fruit syrups. 
 In the summertime you can find Kahramanmaraş ice cream sold by vendors in the popular tourist destinations in Istanbul.  They perform and entertain as much as they sell dondurma.  Their job is to make the ice cream do the seemingly impossible - pull it like taffy, spin it around like a rope and then play tricks on the tourists with the sticky mass that doesn't easily leave the spoon. 

This is ice cream unlike anything you have experienced. The traditional serving is plain ice cream with a sprinkling of powdered pistachio, served with a fork and knife, for it is not easily scooped with a spoon.  While it may sound unappetizing to eat such a hard, frozen mass it is in fact very smooth and melts like butter as soon as it hits the warmth of the tongue.  No need to greedily gulp down a cone of ice cream to prevent a sticky mess of melted syrup down your arm - Maras ice cream sits patiently in its cone, allowing  you to leisurely savor each creamy bit.

The rope-like texture of Maras ice cream needs to be cut with a knife, but why did they give a cleaver to that little girl?!?
(Image found here)

 The secret to Kahramanmaraş ice cream is the salep - or the dried, powdered root of an orchid that grows in Southern Turkey.  Salep is what gives this ice cream its incredible creamy flavor, and also these gravity-defying, melt-resistant qualities.

Illustrations  of the salep producing orchid, Orchis mascula
Image from this website, where you can buy harvested salep.   
 Salep is also used to make the warm, creamy drink sold around Turkey and many Arabic countries in the winter months. 
The orchid in the wild, Orchis mascula
Image via

Perhaps the orchids grow exceptionally well in the mountains surrounding Maras, or perhaps it is the famous ice cream maker, Mehmet Kanbur, who created the Mado ice cream brand, that makes Maras ice cream remarkable.

This video demonstrates how the ice cream is made by hand and in the factory, including an interview with Mehmet Kanbur, the owner of Mado.

 Whatever the reason, anyone from Maras will tell you that there is no other place in all of Turkey (and many will claim - the world), where you can get the same quality ice cream.  Some even claim that the Mado ice cream sold in the Istanbul cafés is not the same as the Mado ice cream savored in Maras.  It must be true because at the Maras airport you see just about every other passenger checking on a bag full of Styrofoam boxes packed with dry ice and - you guessed it - Maras ice cream.

The Mado store in the Maras airport - for those last minute, desperate ice cream purchases. 

Mado is by far the most popular brand, but there are several other cafes in Maras that sell similar ice cream.  Mado, however, has become a famous symbol of this amazing ice cream around Turkey and around the world.

Mado does not only sell ice cream, but also a wide variety of savory and sweet treats.  Just a glance into their many cafes will cause your blood sugar to peak and send your head spinning with so many options to try.  To make it easy on yourself, you can try the famous Mado brunch at their restaurant next to the Mado factory.  The price is a little steep (~27 TL per person) but you can try a variety of pastries, börek, homemade breads, jams and everything else and more that you would expect with a Turkish breakfast.

Very rustic and cozy ambiance at the original Mado Cafe.
For a smaller treat, we like to head to the several Mado cafes in the central part of Maraş.  There you can find the first Mado shop and it is full of memorabilia, old newspaper clippings, and antique Turkish housewares.  I tried out künefe for the first time in this café - cheese coated in small pasty threads, fried and covered in a sweet syrup - served, of course, with Maras ice cream on the side.

nefe at the downtown Maras cafe

If I haven't convinced you that Maras ice cream is some of the best in the world, then I've failed miserably.  But it's your loss!  I know come June I'll be enjoying scoop after scoop - or more like - slice after slice of this delicious dondurma. 

To read more, here is an interesting article from a Turkish language website that highlights Maras icecream:


  1. OK, wow! You have totally ignited my desire to visit Maraş just in these cafe tips! My M. always loves finding the delicious, unfound small cafes here and there - and even though I am sure that Mado's original is not in the "unfound" category - it looks amazing. OK, beginning the diet now.

    And I am fascinated to learn that is sahlep, not mastic, that makes the dondurma defy physics! Who knew!

    1. Hi Liz, I'm glad I've encouraged you to visit Maras! Let me know if you do end up in that area this summer because we may be there as well!

      I just looked up mastic and you are right that it is a typical ingredient in the dondurma as well, and gives it the chewiness (according to wikipedia ;-) ) So I guess it is the combination of salep, mastic and perhaps the paddling technique that make the ice cream so different.


Thanks for joining the conversation!

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