Büyükada, Prince’s Islands, TÜRKIYE – The streets of Istanbul are filled with small ice cream stands, the vendors flipping cones for enthusiastic tourists. Videos of the ice cream acrobatics have gone viral, amusing millions through a screen.
But Princes Island on the Turkish coast is bare of these unique stands – the vendors simply scoop.
Çetin Esmer, 51, has been running an ice cream shop in Büyükada for years.
He explained that in order to keep serving customers quickly, vendors on the island don’t flip their cones. Most don’t even learn the intricacies of the trade, according to Esmer.
“There are tricks of the trade in flipping ice cream. The ice cream is stretchy, sticky, and hard to manage, so it takes a long time to learn,” Esmer said.
The sweet treat itself is unique to Türkiye – the distinctive stretchy texture comes from the mandate milk, which contains more fat than the variety often used to make ice cream.
It’s an important part of Turkish culture, Esmer said.
“Like every region has their own specialty, this ice cream has an important place in our culture as well.”
Flavors aren’t always authentic to Türkiye, though – Esmer’s favorite flavor of ice cream is Oreo.
Esmer said that most vendors don’t sell authentic Maraş ice cream because it’s simply too expensive and harder to work with than other ice cream.
He said, “to be real, if you make true Maraş ice cream, you need to sell one scoop for 40 liras.” The type he sells is a similar version, but easier to achieve the right consistency and cheaper, too.
Esmer started his small business after moving to the island at age 17 from Erzincan, an eastern Turkish province. He worked in construction and as an apprentice in a bakery before stumbling upon the opportunity to own his own ice cream shop.
“Life makes you work a lot in different places,” he said.
He loves his job.
“Because of this ice cream, I can meet people [from] all around the world,” he said, adding that he’s picked up phrases in English, Arabic, and Russian from his customers. “It helps me make connections.”
But working with ice cream has its challenges too, according to Esmer.
Weather on the island can impact the quality and texture of the ice cream.
“When there is wind, the ice cream gets softer,” he said. To satisfy as many customers as possible, Esmer also feels the burden of early mornings and incredibly late nights, always being on his feet.
By working hard on the island selling his ice cream, Esmer sent his two children to school. His daughter teaches preschool and his son is a police officer.
From his humble roots, he has successfully created a thriving business and supported his family.
Sreehitha Gandluri is a Correspondent with Youth Journalism International from the United States. Naz Mergen is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International from Istanbul. They reported and wrote this story and Mergen made the video of Gandluri trying to get an ice cream cone.
Mary Majerus-Collins is an Associate Editor with Youth Journalism International. She took the photo at the top.