Xinjiang’s Ice Cream Man (or Woman)
A small motor was quietly whirring on top of this small push cart as I approached it. The motor was spinning a deep tub of ice cream ingredients while the woman on the other side used a long wooden spoon to gently scrape the sides. The cart, set on four wheels, is essentially Xinjiang’s version of the Ice Cream Man. They may not make their way through the city neighborhoods beckoning children with the sound of “The Entertainer”, but they have their own unique style.
Within the Uyghur markets (like the Urumqi International Bazaar) and along streets lined with Uyghur restaurants you’ll find numerous carts or stands with a large pile of recently made ice cream ready to scoop into a small cup. These vendors usually set up their carts in the desired location, open a large umbrella to keep the area cool, and stay put for an entire day.
This Ain’t Bluebell
I have to be honest and say that the first time I ate Uyghur ice cream I didn’t like it very much. When I hear the word “ice cream” I usually begin daydreaming about a large gallon of Bluebell or a small pint of Ben and Jerry’s (I’ve been in China too long!) but this stuff is a whole different genre of frozen desert. Uyghur ice cream has a very milky flavor and is usually grainy in texture.
The ice cream can be made in different flavors, but all share the same tint of yellow. Some are milk flavored while others are flavored to a specific fruit, but you’ll have to ask to know for sure. I once heard rumors that they use goat and camel milk as the main ingredient but all the Uyghurs I have talked to laugh at this idea.
To Eat or Not to Eat?
There’s no doubt that if you come to Xinjiang during the summer you’ve got to at least give this ice cream a try. There’s a chance you won’t like it and you can always stop by the local store for regular ice-cream-on-a-stick, but it’s another great example of interesting foods, foods like incredibly tasty Xinjiang bread or the Big Plate Chicken, that you’ll only be able to (easily) find in this part of China.
Still not convinced? A single cup, like you see in the picture above, is only 2-3 RMB (about 25 cents). There’s really no excuse.