Gooey Goodness: Ramallah's Stretchy Ice Cream Delights : The Salt For decades, two rival West Bank shops have been selling a type of ice cream that stretches like melted mozzarella on a pizza. The secret to the frozen treat is part science, part presentation.
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Gooey Goodness: Ramallah's Stretchy Ice Cream Delights

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Gooey Goodness: Ramallah's Stretchy Ice Cream Delights

Gooey Goodness: Ramallah's Stretchy Ice Cream Delights

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Well, Labor Day has come and gone, but let's hang on to the sweetness of summer for just a little longer with a story about ice cream. This ice cream stretches, kind of like cheese on a pizza. Palestinians find this treat in the city of Ramallah in two rival shops. Here's NPR's Emily Harris.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: It's 10 a.m. on a weekday, and people are already eating ice cream at Rukab's, the original Ramallah stretchy ice cream shop.

AIDA SAMARA: (Foreign language spoken).

HARRIS: Aida Samara is here with work friends. She orders a dish of mixed flavors. She doesn't know what makes that stretchy texture she likes.

SAMARA: I don't know what is the secret behind the stretchy, but anyone eat it like this stretchy thing.

HARRIS: It is that stretch that's the favorite thing of one 5-year-old customer. Servers can pull the colorful ice cream into taffy-like strands over a foot long. Owner Hassan Rukab says stretch appeals to most everyone.

HASSAN RUKAB: They like stretchy cheese on the pizza. They like stretchy cheese in knafe.

HARRIS: Knafe is a super sweet dessert made of super stretchy cheese.

H. RUKAB: Stretchiness means flexibility (laughter), which is good. That's what I think.

HARRIS: Rukab's makes its ice cream in a small factory around the corner. Hassan's son, Jimmy, takes us to scrub up before entering.

OK, so we are all suited up. We're wearing white hats and coats and facemasks to go.

Jimmy Rukab shows the big stainless steel vats where the ice cream is pasteurized and homogenized, then chilled and whirled.

JIMMY RUKAB: Here's where they make it from liquid to ice cream. We still do it the old-fashioned way.

HARRIS: Well, sort of. Workers do use customary long-handled paddles to pack the ice cream down as it freezes in modern Italian gelato machines. Rukab says this method and certain ingredients help make the ice cream stretchy, like Arabic gum, basically tree sap.

J. RUKAB: Arabic gum, and you beat the air out, you get richer and smoother ice cream.

HARRIS: Stretchy ice cream has variants around the Middle East. The paddles hearken to the traditional Turkish method of beating the ice cream. Some recipes from the region call for salep, made from orchid root, to add elasticity. Ramallah has only two stretchy ice cream companies. A second, Baladna, was started by an ex-Rukab employee. Baladna co-owner Imad Mimseeh won't tell all the ingredients.

IMAD MIMSEEH: Fresh milk, powder milk, sugar and dextrose and also some secret stuff. And we use Arabic gum, also.

HARRIS: Which is also an ice cream flavor. Mimseeh says his most popular dish is a six-flavor combo - pistachio, Arabic gum, chocolate, pineapple, lemon and strawberry.

MIMSEEH: If you like sweet, sour and chocolate together, it will be nice. This is the traditional Ramallah ice cream.

HARRIS: Both Ramallah elastic ice cream makers dish up cones of this combination for street vendors to sell for about 75 cents each.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

HARRIS: Emily Harris, NPR News, Ramallah.

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