Xinjiang entrepreneur uses local delicacy to give back to society

By Zhang Yiqian Source:Global Times Published: 2014-8-29 5:03:01

Adel Mamattura delivers 5,000 kilograms of nut cakes to Yunnan Province. Photo: CFP

Adel Mamattura grew up in a household that sold qiegao (a sticky nut cake made of walnuts and peanuts), a traditional Xinjiang snack. When he was 12, he began helping his father with the family qiegao business.

Adel's father wanted him to get a stable job. However, Adel went into the business to save the snack's reputation, and was crowned the "qiegao prince" for the good deeds he has done in helping earthquake-struck areas in Yunnan Province.

Studying outside

Out of six children, Adel was the only one who studied outside Xinjiang. His brothers and sisters are either farmers or small business owners, and didn't go on to college.

In 2000, the government started providing classes for Xinjiang children outside of the autonomous region in big cities, as an initiative to provide educational and development aid to the region. The government pays the tuition and living expenses of all children who enter the program.

Adel was one of them. His father had high hopes for him and wanted him to get a government job in his hometown. Selling qiegao isn't seen as an occupation that carries a great deal of prestige in Xinjiang. Adel's family owns a couple of cotton and corn fields, and it was his father's hope that he wouldn't continue with this life.

He went to high school in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, then went on to Changsha, Hunan Province for college.

Jiang Jinya, Adel's college classmate and current business partner, remembers when he first met Adel, the Uyghur roomate gave him the impression of being quiet and introverted and only spoke when others talk to him. Jiang was curious about the Uyghurs because he had never met one in person, and at first didn't even know Adel could speak Putonghua.

Jiang said he had read media reports on people from Xinjiang which inevitably focused on those who were either thieves or terrorists. But after becoming familiar with Adel, he found that Uyghurs weren't that way.

"Adel can be summed up by three traits: He's straightforward, honest and hardworking," Jiang said. "It's normal for us to lie, but Adel won't because of his religious belief."

Righting the name

In 2012, the official police Weibo account of Yueyang, Hunan Province reported that a fight had broken out between a qiegao vendor and a customer, who ended up paying 200,000 yuan ($32,552)for a whole cart.

Netizens joked about this incident and referred to the snack as "priceless qiegao." Then, many people, recalling similarly unpleasant experiences, pitched in and told their personal stories about dealing with pushy qiegao vendors.

Jiang also bought qiegao around that time and took it back to the dormitory. He asked Adel, "Is this a  specialty in Xinjiang? Why does it taste so bad?"

Adel told Jiang this is not how qiegao is supposed to taste. Authentic qiegao should be made with walnuts, peanuts and grape juice, he said, but the qiegao he bought outside Xinjiang was often made with other ingredients, and once he had even had one made from corn.

When Jiang asked Adel if he wanted to start a company selling qiegao, he immediately said yes. "For a long time I wanted to right the name for the Uyghurs," he said.

Back then, there were many media reports about "Uyghur thieves," Adel said. When he went shopping, he would sometimes see people around him subconsciously touching their own pockets to check whether anything had been stolen.

However, the idea didn't please Adel's father, who was against his son doing what he did for a living. He repeatedly told Adel to stick with his studies and not to think about anything else.

But Adel continued making cakes. At first, not many people heard of them and sales weren't good. Jiang admits they took a risk. "Back then, qiegao had a terrible reputation, and we were going against the stream," he said.

The team shot some videos and put them online, with Adel narrating and talking about how authentic their cake was.

Sales climbed in May 2014, when A Bite of China II, a documentary about different foods in China, presented qiegao as one of the country's specialties. After that, sales soared to 20,000 orders per month. Adel and the others expanded production and hired about 60 workers.

5,000 kilograms

When the earthquake struck Yunnan in August, Adel read on the news that because of a lack of food and water, some of the soldiers dispatched to carry out rescue efforts were cooking instant noodles with muddy water.

He thought about donating qiegao to the earthquake victims because "qiegao can be kept for as long as six months, doesn't need water for cooking and provides energy," he told the Global Times.

The news said about 70,000 people were affected by this earthquake, and Adel had about 2,500 kilograms of qiegao in storage. He held a meeting with his business partners and decided to donate a total of 5,000 kilograms, so that the people there could each have a piece.

Jiang said Adel gathered the staff for a meeting. However, he had doubts about this project, as they were going to give out 500,000 yuan worth of food for free. But Adel was determined about this, he said. In the end, they thought about giving back to society and decided to go ahead with the plan. They delayed deliveries to their current customers by three days and focused all their efforts on production for Yunnan.

It took more than two days to make, Adel recalled. He wanted to make sure the cakes would be produced in time to address the food shortage problem in the disaster-struck areas.

"We didn't have that many staff, so we gathered up everybody, the finance department, the receptionist, and we all put our effort into making the cakes," he said.

Many media outlets flooded the area to interview Adel. He was even called the "qiegao prince" as a result of the media reports. But Adel said fame isn't what he is after. Next, he will start selling some of Xinjiang's best nuts and fruits, and hopes he can use some of the money to help out a child who can't afford to go to school, so that he can give back to society, he said.

Newspaper headline: Let them eat cake

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