Uygur student Adili Maimaiti Ture, 23, is nicknamed the "Cut Cake Prince" online because he and his business partners recently donated five tonnes of the traditional Xinjiang candy (qie gao) to Ludian county, Yunnan province, after an earthquake in August. His family wanted Ture, a senior student in mechanical engineering, to be a public servant in his hometown of Kashgar . But his life took a sweeter turn. Learning the candy-making skills passed down from his grandfather to his father, Ture and two university friends at Changsha's Hunan Institute of Science and Technology opened an online store to sell the handmade delicacy. To their surprise, orders came from all over the nation and it has now become massively popular.
Why do you want to make and sell cut cake?
Just like my grandpa, my father raised our family by making and selling cut cake [so named because it is sold in pieces and is also called Maren candy]. My best memory as a child was when my father took me to the weekend market to sell cut cake. I still remember the warm smiles of his customers after they tasted our cut cake.
The real reason that drove me to start the business was the "cut cake incident" in Yueyang city, Hunan, in December 2012. Local police had to give about 200,000 yuan [HK$251,000] in compensation to a dozen Uygur businessmen … after their cut cake was damaged [in] a fight with customers. Many people think Uygur people and their cut-cake business could be a scam. I thought I could make a difference by making it affordable and popular. My classmates Jiang Jinta and Jiang Chunyang were interested in working with me after they found out there was high demand for cut cake online. Our family and friends helped us with some start-up funding. We opened our online store under my name, "Maimaiti Cut Cake", in early 2013.
What's your secret to making delicious cut cake?
My father always says that to make the best cut cake, one should use the best ingredients: fresh and dried almonds, walnuts and raisins, grape juice and malt sugar. And to make the taste authentic, you also need to avoid putting too many other ingredients in it, or the flavour becomes too complicated. Making cut cake is simple. You melt sugar in a large pan and stir it. When it's the right timing you pour all other ingredients into it [and] mix it well. Then it's cooled, pressed and cut into small slices. We usually make each piece 100 grams and … offer three different flavours.
Our cut cake is made in an authentic and traditional way. The taste may not be so different from other cut cake. But we probably [were the earliest to] sell cut cake online. We make our price competitive and package it … with friendly service. We also try to use as many social-media tools and online shopping stores as possible. Our best record is selling more than 100,000 yuan worth of cut cake per week.
Why did you decide to donate so much to Ludian?
The devastating earthquake in Ludian caused so many deaths and wounds. Many became homeless and lacked basic resources such as food and fresh water. There was shocking news that some even used muddy water to boil noodles. It really got me. Cut cake is a snack that provides high energy and vitamins. You don't need to cook it or eat it with water. Our package size is convenient and [transportable]. We felt that we could always make money, but at that moment those hungry survivors could make better use of our cut cake. So we rented a truck. A staff member and I drove for 40 hours from Changsha to reach Ludian on August 10. We handed out cake to villagers in Long Yangshan village, where they experienced severe damage. Many Muslims lived there along with other minorities. They really appreciated our cut cake.
Do you think you can make a difference as a Uygur through charity?
My father taught me a lot when I was growing up. He helped so many people in our village and he was always so welcomed.
Like him, I'd like to extend my help to as many as people as possible. I haven't thought much about my identity as a Uygur. I guess I am sensitive to Uygur-related issues and want to help. When a terrorism event happened in my hometown of Kashgar in July, I organised charity sales one weekend. We made about 12,000 yuan and donated it to the families who had suffered severe losses. What we gave them could never compare to what they lost, but it meant something.
How do you picture your future?
My grandpa told me that the history of cut cake started more than a thousand years ago when traders carried the cut cake as energy bars for their long journeys. In that way the cut cake is indeed the Uygur version of Snickers. Our future plan is to sell it as energy food just like Snickers. There are still a lot of online shopping platforms we haven't explored, and we plan to do so. We'll design and apply our … logo. The business will be bigger and we'll be busier.
My only regret is that I'm far from my family. I once asked my father and brother to move here and join me in the business but they'd rather stay home … This is something special about Uygur people - we always bond with our families. I hope I can make enough money and take an early retirement and live with my family in Xinjiang.