By far the most famous thing about Harbin is the bitter cold in the winter. Average winter temperatures reach down towards -20° C (-4° F), with occasional days below -35° (-31° F). Every year Harbin capitalizes on this reputation by hosting a month-long Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, world famous for its enormous sculptures made of ice and snow. So why, in a city renowned for its biting winters, is ice cream on a stick one of the most popular street foods?
Locals claim it is good for warming up the body, but as far as I’m concerned the taste is enough justification for its seemingly out-of-place popularity. These days you can find a number of different flavors, but the traditional off-white ice cream is flavored very simply. Actually, it mostly just tastes like lightly sweetened milk. This strong milk flavor can be a bit surprising for people who have grown up on chocolate, vanilla, and mint ice creams. It boasts a rich, creamy texture that melts in the warmth of your mouth, spreading the flavor to every corner of your tongue. Nothing complicated here—just good, simple ice cream on a stick. For the most authentic version, head over to the Modern Hotel, where they were first sold in 1906 by the Russian Jews who owned the hotel. You will know that you have found the real deal when you see “马迭尔” imprinted in the ice cream (mă dié ĕr is meant to approximate the word “modern”). Whether it is summer or winter or in between, you won’t want to miss this creamy treat with more than a century of tradition.