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Hemp Sugar or Cut Cake? A Uighur Delight in Southern China Submitted by: jonathand
Shenzhen

Peanuts, walnuts, apricots, golden and standard-issue raisins, candied fruit, and flour, sugar, and corn syrup densely packed into a cake. Am I in Turkey or the Balkans? Neither, though you're not too far off if you guessed Turkey... In fact, while I was teaching English in Shenzhen, China there was a point in time that I thought this viscous treat was called 麻糖 (matang), or literally "Hemp Sugar." Heck, if you search for that and the word "Uighur," you'll see a couple of pictures of it appear. Along with pictures of a peanut candy from Pennsylvania and guards from the DMZ.

Clearly, that's not the correct name. The Uighurs, a Muslim minority of Turkic descent that hail from Xinjiang in northwestern China, claim matang, better (actually) known as 切糕 (qiegao) "cut cake", as their trademark dessert. Many Uighurs have left their austere and distant homes most commonly associated with the Silk Road and spread out to the newly prosperous cities of the east and south. If you don't happen to live in a city where Xinjiang cuisine can be found in brick-and-mortar forms, you will most likely encounter these folk pedaling qiegao around local Muslim communities, or more likely far, far away from the 执法 (zhifa), or law enforcement trucks.

Purchasing the goods isn't always easy or even stress-free. Sometimes a local Chinese would watch as I bargained with the Uighur vendor, telling him (it's typically a male, outside of Xinjiang at least) to raise the price; that's one of those fun moments where knowing a bit of the lingo helps. Though much more likely, the seller is an ornery cuss, so try not to negotiate for a slice of the dental nightmare when he is surrounded by his buddies. My strategy has been to repeat ad nauseum one price, even though he'll take out a scale and arbitrarily call out a price for the smallest amount of qiegao possible. It's going to be a laughable portion, so whipping out a "salaam" to start off the conversation may prove useful too. One time, a Uighur gave me a huge bag of the cake for free, possibly because it was tainted (as was the rumor at the time), or because the fuzz were on the loose. Regardless, it's one Chinese delicacy I look forward to, with or without a heated argument.


 



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