It’s hot in the Philippines all year and it only gets even hotter comes summer. Going to the beach, taking a dip in the pool, or going somewhere cool might be the brightest ideas to deal with the sweltering heat. But for Filipinos, summer will never be complete without these thirst-quenching, traditional treats.
Halo-halo is roughly translated as “mixed” and this pertains to how the dessert should be eaten. The ingredients vary but the main components are shaved ice, gelatin or agar jelly, sago (sah-go) or tapioca, sweetened banana, ube (purple yam) jam, creamy milk, leche flan (milk flan), and native ice cream.
For Filipinos, summer begins the moment people install halo-halo stands in their neighborhood. It’s as if the dessert has earned its own reputation as the hallmark of Philippine summer.
Ice candy is the Filipinos’ version of the freezie. Popular ice candy flavors are native chocolate (tablea), mango, and coconut as their trees grow almost everywhere in rural areas. Fruit bits are also added to the mix to make it healthier.
Sorbetes is a Spanish term for ice cream. The Philippine’s sorbetes has been degraded into so-called “dirty ice cream.” However, it’s only implied to be dirty because it’s traditionally made in houses and sold on the streets in the iconic sorbetes cart peddled by the sorbetero (sorbetes vendor).
Native ice cream is made of carabao’s milk often sold in ube (purple yam) and queso (cheese) flavors. It’s then placed in steel canisters kept frozen by blocks of ice when mounted in the cart. Sadly, the iconic sorbetero and his cart are slowly becoming a thing of the past. Fortunately, the sorbetes remains a favorite in town fiestas, birthdays, and as a halo-halo topping sprinkled with rice krispies.
This tropical cooler is an infusion of organic sago (sah-go) pearls, gulaman (agar jelly), and brown sugar syrup. Also known as samalamig (cold refreshment), the sago’t gulaman is added vanilla, strawberry, screwpine, and coconut for flavoring.
Ice scramble is made of shaved ice, evaporated milk, banana extract, sugar, and strawberry flavoring. Like the sorbetes, ice scramble is a popular street food patronized by locals and foreign tourists. More colorful toppings like candy sprinkles, mini marshmallows, and rice krispies are added to make this summer treat more appealing to the public.
There’s an abundance of coconuts in the Philippines thanks to its tropical climate and fertile lands. Coconuts are available the whole year. Some houses have palm trees in their backyards and a fruit surplus is either given to neighbors or made into buko juice (coconut juice or young coconut milk) or buko pandan salad (coconut salad with screwpine flavor).
Coconut juice is a favorite refreshment that tastes best when drank fresh from the husk. Its pure state contains numerous natural vitamins and minerals beneficial to the body. The other cool dessert is coconut salad with screwpine (pandan) flavor. This is typically made of shredded young coconut, sweetened cream, and agar jelly. Filipinos cook the agar jelly in coconut milk and pandan leaves, giving it a richer flavor. Buko pandan is a crowd favorite in any party at any time of the year.
Even in the midst of the milk tea fad these traditional desserts and refreshments remain popular in malls, restaurants, and in the hearts of Filipinos. It’s because they embody the unique Filipino taste and rich history and culture.
Abigail is a senior writer in Xilium. Before joining the company, she worked as a content creator for online startups and has written about current events, health, lifestyle, and entertainment for US-based online news portals and lifestyle blog sites.