A refreshing taste of history: Ice cream shaped like iconic attractions across China lures domestic tourists

Ice cream replicas of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests in Beijing's Temple of Heaven (left) and Mogao Caves in Gansu Province in western China. ST PHOTOS: ELIZABETH LAW, DANSON CHEONG

BEIJING - Shaanxi resident Bai Yu and his family went to visit Beijing's Temple of Heaven, but before entering the attraction, they headed to a snack stand.

Their target: a 28 yuan (S$5.80) ice cream replica of the iconic Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, where emperors performed ceremonies in hopes of a bountiful year.

In a bid to attract more visitors and increase spending at otherwise staid parks and museums, China's tourist sites have been introducing intricate three-dimensional frozen treats.

For up to 40 yuan, visitors can get tasty mini versions of various attractions, ranging from Gansu's Mogao Caves and Suzhou's Tiger Hill Pagoda to Wuhan's iconic Yellow Crane Tower.

The frozen treats bewitched Chinese social media during the recent Labour Day holidays, with domestic tourists kept home by coronavirus travel restrictions spending some 113.23 billion yuan during the five-day break.

While still short of 2019's 117.7 billion yuan - travellers spent 47.6 billion yuan last year as China was just gradually reopening after lockdown - industry players are hopeful this new gimmick can go some way in increasing food and beverage spending at attractions.

"My wife saw the ice cream on Xiaohongshu (a Pinterest-like social media platform) and we knew we had to get one during our visit," Mr Bai, 30, told The Straits Times on a warm Wednesday afternoon.

"Just seeing the building alone, it's historic but a little something like this adds more fun. Also it provides relief from the heat," he added.

Even museums are jumping into the iconic-ice cream bandwagon: Places such as the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City and the Tianjin Museum offer replicas of museum artefacts in ice cream form, while visitors to the Emperor Qinshihuang's Mausoleum Site Museum in Shaanxi can get their very own, delicious, terracotta soldier.

Depending on the attraction, daily sales range between hundreds and a peak of 20,000, said Mr Zhao Dan, co-founder of In Between Taste, a company that works with dozens of tourist sites to produce the icy treat.

The firm previously focused on making merchandise for museum gift shops, but moved into frozen desserts, which has a higher turnover.

A replica of the Bo Ju cauldron at Beijing's Capital Museum and an ice cream in its likeness. ST PHOTO: ELIZABETH LAW
An ice cream replica of the iconic Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests in Beijing's Temple of Heaven in a coffee drink (left) and a Qing Dynasty porcelain vase on display at the Tianjin Museum. ST PHOTOS: ELIZABETH LAW

The company is involved in every step of the process, from picking the item to be featured through to the design and manufacturing process, even developing its own popsicle-ice cream hybrid recipe.

The process begins with designing a model of the popsicle, which is then printed with a 3D printer. It forms the basis for a silicone mould. Before 2019, there was no technology that allowed ice cream to have such intricate detail, Mr Zhao said.

But parts of the process are still closely guarded secrets, with three different manufacturers turning down factory visit requests citing industrial sensitivities.

"We started out hoping that small children and really, more people, could get to understand more of Chinese culture," Mr Zhao said, pointing to the explanatory notes at the back of each package.

"(Through ice cream) we hope to bring history to life and allow more to understand Chinese culture," he said.

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