Have You Tried Chewable Ice Cream?
Booza is stretchy, chewy frozen bliss.
When it comes to ice cream, you can get your licks. But when it comes to booza, you can lick it, chew it and stretch it.
What is booza? It’s a frozen Levantine confection that’s been around for over 500 years. Originally developed in the Mediterranean region of Levant using sahlab (ground orchid root) and mastic (a common ingredient in chewing gum), the ice cream has elasticity and a smooth-yet-chewy texture. But how? Instead of being churned, the mixture is poured into a freezing-cold drum, pounded with a long wooden pestle, and hand-stretched, yielding a consistency that lands somewhere between freshly pulled mozzarella and taffy.
Back in the day, booza only came in one flavor, qashta, or candied cream. But a few enterprising shops are updating the classic. Here are three spots to whet your appetite and sate your curiosity for booza:
Republic of Booza (Brooklyn)
Republic of Booza (pictured above) was founded by four friends united by their shared love of booza, including co-owner Michael Sadler. Sadler discovered booza at the Damascus ice cream parlor Bakdash — an institution that’s been around since 1885 — about a decade ago during an Arabic study-abroad program. “I thought it was the most amazing kind of ice cream I'd ever had, with this beguiling consistency that was, at the same time, super dense and creamy, while soft and light to eat. It’s like gelato on steroids,” Sadler says. “It struck me, though, that the shop, which specialized in booza, only served it in one flavor.”
That observation inspired him to open a booza shop devoted to multiple flavors. The contemporary scoop shop, located in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, melds old-school recipes and techniques with new-school flavors. The menu is divided into categories such as ‘classic,’ including chocolate, pistachio and salted caramel; ‘global,’ like the original qashta, horchata de chufa (Sadler’s personal favorite), which is fashioned after the Spanish tiger-nut milk beverage, and mango-tajin, which incorporates the lime, chile, and sea salt Mexican seasoning blend; and ‘experimental,’ think: mint tahini chip, coconut matcha, and salted Oreo, an early fan-favorite.
BigDash Ice Cream and Pastry (Richardson, Texas)
BigDash Ice Cream and Pastry, a small Richardson shop (about 30 minutes north of Dallas), has been both scooping and rolling and slicing their “Arabic ice cream” alongside a menu of Syrian and Middle Eastern pastries for a few years. BigDash pays homage to the Syrian ice cream in name — BigDash is a play on words on Bakdash, the original Syrian booza shop — and in practice, pounding and stretching the ice cream in the traditional fashion. They offer a range of options, including slices of their signature logs of pistachio-rolled rose water booza, as well as stretchy scoops in experimental flavors such as pomegranate, lotus and tiramisu, and classic flavors such as vanilla, pistachio and the fan-favorite strawberry. In the coming months, the owners hope to move to a larger space to better showcase the booza-making process and offer more variety of ice cream and pastries.
Le Mirage Pastries & Chocolate (Anaheim, California)
Damascus native and pastry chef Maher Nakhal opened Le Mirage Bakery in Anaheim’s Little Arabia back in 2005 with a line-up of classic French and Middle Eastern pastries. But he always dreamt of bringing a taste of his youth — the pistachio booza he learned to make at Bakdash — to the States.
About three years ago, he decided the time was right. After a few attempts, he imported the right machine, a rectangular, steel cart outfitted with a steel drum that gets up to 40 degrees below zero. He pours in the base — a mixture of boiled milk thickened with sahlab and mastic and flavored with vanilla and sugar — coating the sides and vigorously scraping it up and down and pounding it with a big, wooden pestle. Then he sprinkles in crushed Turkish pistachios which impart a pronounced flavor and lovely green color. He then turns the mixture out on a marble slab, rolls it into logs, coats them in more pistachios, then serves it in slices (you can customize portion size or buy a whole roll). Savor the slow-melting treat in a sundae splashed with rose water and topped with berries.