244-288 High St Northcote, VIC 3070
|Opening hours||Tue-Thu 10am-10pm; Fri 10am-11pm; Sat-Sun 11am-11pm|
|Features||Vegetarian friendly, Gluten-free options, Family friendly, Outdoor seating|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Payments||eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9489 3114|
Buying ice-cream in Turkey is not a straightforward transaction. The vendors are also showmen and buying a cone is a sleight-of-hand performance.
First the ice-cream is poked and scraped with a special metal pole. Then it seems as though they're handing it to you but they flip your ice-cream upside down and sneak it away. This can happen half-a-dozen times before you actually get your treat.
The ice-cream itself – called dondurma – is stretchy and thick, like ice-cold elastic. Legend has it that you can tow a car with it; you can certainly use it as a skipping rope.
In the southern city of Kahramanmaras, the home of dondurma, I saw a couple of muscly, twinkly-eyed ice-cream purveyors swinging great ropes of the stuff in front of their stall.
The ingredient that gives dondurma its special qualities is salep, a starchy powder extracted from particular orchids. It's increasingly rare and exports are forbidden, which means true dondurma is rarely seen outside Turkey (well, except Azerbaijan).
That brings us to Cuppa Turca, a Turkish ice-cream cafe just opened in Northcote. It's an exciting addition to our food scene because owner Harun Yalcin has found a way around the salep situation. He spent six months experimenting with various salep substitutes to come up with a secret recipe that replicates the original.
His ice-cream is stretchy and smooth and melts very slowly, just like the real thing. Flavours include classic mastic, a resinous sap with a slight pine flavour, pistachio, halva and the curiously fabulous feta and cantaloupe. You can have it in a cone but I reckon it's better between two wafers or sandwiched between baklava.
Yalcin isn't a dondurma dude from way back; he worked as a tour guide in Turkey, met an Aussie girl and ended up here when Turkish tourism tanked due to political troubles. His store is a labour of love, built from reclaimed bits and pieces.
Yalcin has his dondurma poking and stretching down pat but he hasn't yet stepped it up to vendor trickery. Perhaps he'll have that nailed by summer.
Meantime, there's black tea and apple tea (if you've ever bought a Turkish rug you'll have drunk your weight in this syrupy liquid) but the most exciting drink is Turkish coffee brewed over hot sand.
Coffee powder, sugar (choose from no sugar, little sugar, medium or sweet) and water are stirred in a copper pot then snuggled in the sand to brew. Once hot and foam-topped, it's poured into a little cup and served with Turkish delight. It's ritual as much as it's beverage.
Ice-cream is the main deal here but there are also sweets and pastries made by trusted friends to classic Turkish recipes. The tahini scroll is Istanbul's answer to the almond croissant: it's lovely with a hot drink.
Melbourne has so many cuisines that it's easy to imagine we have the whole world on our plates. We don't.
Cuppa Turca is a reminder that there are always more tastes to try.
Rating: Three and a half stars (out of five)