It’s summer time and tropical Philippines is where I’m at! It is so hot that you could have just finished bathing and be sitting down without moving a muscle and still, the sweat would keep rolling down your whole body…Time to refresh!!!
The root word is “halo,” meaning both “mix” and “stir.” So to be quite literal about it, you can say that it means “mix-mix” or “stir-stir.” No one really says that, though, and you’ll do better not to so they won’t laugh at you even when you’re not making a joke. More appropriately, you can say “hodge podge” since, indeed, halo-halo is a hodge podge of sweet delights.
Halo-halo is one of our most popular desserts in the country. It is mainly a mixture of shaved ice (the most important ingredient) and evaporated milk. Added in are various ingredients consisting mostly of boiled sweet beans (kidney beans, mung beans, garbanzos), jello/gulaman/tapioca, plantains and fruits like banana and langka (jackfruit) most times caramelized in sugar and, often, pinipig (rice crispies or pounded dried rice). Actual sugar is generally added as well.
Those are what the garden-variety halo-halo usually consists of. It may be considered as a street food because during summer, you can find it being sold along streets to help consumers quench their thirst. Price differs, based on the size of cup you choose, but generally, it is affordable. Sometimes, a little scoop — and I do mean a little — of either leche flan (crème caramel or caramel custard) or ube / ubeng pula (purple yam) is added at the top.
Some legitimate food businesses, big or small, also offer this in bigger amounts placed in larger cups and containers. Opt for a special order and you might get an actual spoonful of yam, a bigger slice of flan, or a scoop of ice cream (usually ube-flavored already), sometimes all of them. There are businesses that add more non-traditional stuff to make the dessert more attractive and enjoyable to the taste.
Now those aren’t the only usual ingredients. It is always nice to get these additional or alternative ones as well: kaong (sugar palm fruit), macapuno (coconut sport or shredded coconut), nata de coco (coconut gelatin), camote (sweet potato), corn, sometimes cheese.
How to make halo-halo is easy, by principle. Generally, you first put just enough sugar into the bowl, for instance. Add in the ingredients except those meant as toppings, your call how much, then add the shaved ice, and lastly, pour in enough milk before adding the topping(s). Now here is why it is called halo-halo: to be able to enjoy it, you must mix everything up with a spoon, then Voila!!! You’re ready to dig in and eat your heart out. The mixing part takes a bit of concentration and skill so nothing falls out and gets wasted, but over time, you’ll get the hang of it.
It does seem easy. But the thing is it’s not as easy as it seems on the part of those who sell it. It seems easy because we as customers only witness how things are simply poured in, but preparation of the ingredients themselves already takes time. For instance, you don’t think fruits just caramelize by themselves, do you? Not everything comes preserved in bottles either. It takes time and commitment to do grocery, cut then cook some of the ingredients. Also, a lot of the street halo-halo vendors still use the hand ice shaver shown below. If you have never tried using this, then you wouldn’t know how hard it can actually get just to shave ice.
THAT is our summer pride — the halo-halo. So if ever you find yourself all hot and bothered for real, you know what to do. Go out and “you mix-mix it!”
Hope this post finds you refreshed. Click LIKE, I know you want to 😉
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