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What is Uyghur Ice Cream? 维吾尔冰淇淋

February 12 | 2 Comments

In the heat of a Xinjiang summer, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a cup of tasty Uyghur ice cream (known as 维吾尔冰淇淋 in Chinese). It’s usually found in small stalls along the street and costs less than a dollar. The taste, however, is one you likely won’t forget.

Uyghur ice cream in Urumqi, Xinjiang
  • Local Name:  “Maruxna” (pronounced ma-rue-sh-na)
  • Chinese Name: 维吾尔冰淇淋 (wéiwúĕr bīngqílín)
  • Alternate Names: Uyghur Ice Cream
  • Description: “Homestyle” churned ice cream served in a small cup or cone.

If you find yourself traveling through Xinjiang in July or August, there’s going to be no avoiding the heat. You’ll want to make sure you take sun screen, drink plenty of water and, most important of all…

…eat Uyghur ice cream. :)

Hopefully you get a chance to try this Uyghur treat for yourself, but if not, I’d like to give you a chance to live vicariously through my experience. I’ve been able to eat Uyghur ice cream many times over the past 10 years, and I’ve treasured each time.

Finding Uyghur Ice Cream Street Stalls

A small motor quietly whirred on top of this small push cart as I approached it in the oasis town of Kashgar.

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 truck”. 

Uyghur woman serves ice cream in Kashgar, Xinjiang

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 here in Xinjiang, China.

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.

Uyghur Ice Cream’s Unique Taste

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 often has a very milky flavor and is usually grainy in texture. You can get it in a cone but I prefer mine in a cup.

A street vendor's Uyghur ice cream cart

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 Uyghur I have talked to laugh at this idea.

Should You Try This Uyghur Treat?

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. I introduced it to my friend Kevin from Monkey Abroad, and you can see his reaction in the video we created.

In the above video, the ice cream was made in the Kashgar market. Cream is poured into a large bowl along with shaved ice, sugar, and flavorings, and then a big block of ice is plopped down in the center. The creamy mixture is then stirred and poured over the block of ice, making it cold.

When it is all mixed together and has reached the proper temperature, it is poured into a hand cranked machine, and then churned to produce the ice cream.

A Uyghur vendor serves ice cream

Final Thoughts: Uyghur Ice Cream

There’s a chance you won’t like Uyghur ice cream…but I doubt it.

If you’re one of the few that don’t, you can always stop by the local convenience store for regular ice-cream-on-a-stick, but it’s another great example of interesting foods you’ll find in Xinjiang.

This includes foods like the famous Uyghur polo, the always tasty Uyghur flatbread and of course one of my favorites: Big Plate Chicken.

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.

About Josh Summers

Josh is the author of Xinjiang | A Traveler's Guide to Far West China, the most highly-reviewed and comprehensive travel guide on China's western region of Xinjiang. He lived, studied and run a business in Xinjiang, China for more than 10 years, earning recognition for his work from CCTV, BBC, Lonely Planet and many others.

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