Happy days at small town ice cream stall: Who needs Haa­gen-Dazs?

China Daily (Canada) - - XINJIANG -

Meme­tyusup Sidiq has never heard of Haa­gen-Dazs, but he is cer­tainly proud of his home­made ice cream, which is a real treat in North­west China’s swel­ter­ing summer.

Haa­gen-Dazs — a name in­tended to re­sem­ble the Dan­ish for “happy days” — was founded only 56 years ago. Margi­lan, the ice cream store Meme­tyusup in­her­ited from his father, has been serv­ing up creamy de­lights for 84 years, and it was 57 years ago that a 10-year-old Meme­tyusup be­gan to learn the se­crets of his father’s trade.

In 1933, Meme­tyusup’s father left what was then the Soviet Union for Yin­ing city, in what is now Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion, and started sell­ing ice cream. Back then, it was the only ice cream in town.

To­day, Meme­tyusup is still pro­duc­ing the “taste of child­hood”, as one cus­tomer put it, made sim­ply with milk, eggs, sugar and no ad­di­tives. The recipe has changed lit­tle, but to­day a mix­ing ma­chine has cut down some of the hard work. The pre­cise pro­por­tion of in­gre­di­ents is a se­cret known only by Meme­tyusup him­self.

The ice cream master “ad­justs the pro­por­tions ac­cord­ing to the qual­ity of milk so that the fla­vor re­mains con­stant”, said Adil­jan Eysaq, 22, Meme­tyusup’s grand­son and ap­pren­tice.

One of Adil­jan’s daily chores is to scour two gi­nor­mous iron pots, each weigh­ing 250 kilo­grams. It is the first and one of the most im­por­tant steps in mak­ing perfect Margi­lan ice cream. Be­fore Adil­jan was al­lowed to do it by him­self, he was un­der the close su­per­vi­sion of his grand­fa­ther for six years.

“If the pot is not clean, the ice cream will go sour,” Adil­jan ex­plained while scrub­bing with a whet­stone that has been used for 17 years.

Af­ter that, Adil­jan pours milk into the sparkling pot, and Meme­tyusup adds just the right amount of sugar.

The milk is then brought to the boil. “Du­ra­tion and tem­per­a­ture are the key,” said Meme­tyusup. “Too hot and the milk will be burned; not enough heat and the sugar will not melt.”

It takes him five hours to pro­duce the perfect caramel milk. Then he adds eggs, stirs the mix­ture thor­oughly, and puts it in the freezer.

While the mix­ture freezes, Meme­tyusup con­stantly tastes it and ad­justs the fla­vor. “It’s the hard­est step, a real skill, and needs years of prac­tice,” he said.

When the mix­ture has suf­fi­ciently crys­tal­lized, Meme­tyusup spends an­other 40 min­utes stir­ring be­fore freez­ing again. Only then is the sig­na­ture ice cream ready.

A scoop of Margi­lan ice cream is about the same size as a small car­ton of Haa­genDazs, but sells for only 2 yuan (30 US cents).

Meme­tyusup shakes his head when he learns that the ice cream of his United States “com­peti­tors” costs 15 times as much. Price, he said, is not nec­es­sar­ily an in­di­ca­tor of qual­ity.

“For 57 years, I’ve made a liv­ing through ice cream. My fam­ily, in­clud­ing my wife and our five chil­dren, are well off thanks to my ice cream,” said the proud en­tre­pre­neur, who has turned his father’s small stall into a busy store.

He ex­pects to pass on the craft to Adil­jan and is op­ti­mistic about the fu­ture, as his store is in a folk tourism area, which fea­tures lo­cal mul­ti­eth­nic dwellings and an­ces­tral hand­i­crafts like iron pot cast­ing and sad­dle mak­ing.

In peak sea­son, Meme­tyusup can sell 70 kilo­grams (15 pounds) of ice cream a day. To at­tract more cus­tomers, Adil­jan is de­vel­op­ing new fla­vors by adding lo­cal dried fruit and almonds.

But the reg­u­lar cus­tomers still pre­fer the orig­i­nal fla­vor.

“It’s the fla­vor of my home­town,” said Xin Yan­hua, 55. She comes to Margi­lan all year round. She usu­ally treats her­self to three scoops, or buys 1 kg to take home for her chil­dren.

“Young peo­ple pre­fer big brands in the su­per­mar­ket,” she said. “But I just love home­made ice cream. It is the taste of happy days.”

ZHAO GE / XINHUA

Vis­i­tors en­joy home­made ice cream at a scenic area in Yin­ing, the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion. Meme­tyusup Sidiq, ice cream maker of Yiny­ing

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