Summer in the Philippines is marked by the appearance of ubiquitous “Halo-halo” stands. From major thoroughfares to the narrowest alleys, “sari-sari” stores to house frontages, you will find them: several bottles of stewed fruits, canned evaporated milk [ or horrors, one of these made-in-China synthetic milk substitutes capable of inducing kidney damage ], white sugar, plastic cups and spoons, all on a campy plastic tablecloth, and a styrofoam box with a block of ice and an ice shaver. It’s the archetypal summer small business of Juan de la Cruz.
“Halo-halo” is exactly what it’s called: a mix. When I was a child in the early 1970s, and long before it was made chic [ and then bastardized ], the 10 centavo [ yes, 10 centavos! ] “Halo-halo” at the nearby “sari-sari” store of Aling Maring’s was a mix of stewed fruits like “saba” [ plantain bananas ], “langka” [ jackfruit ], “nata de coco” [ fermented coconut jelly ], sweetened “mongo” beans, “ube” purple yam paste, red “gulaman” jelly [ bought dried like loofah from the public market; not American "Jell-O" ], red “sago” [ tapioca ], and “pinipig” rice crispies and was topped by a scoop of shaved ice, to which one added “ebap” evaporated milk [ read: e-v-a-p-o-r-a-t-e-d, not "President" or "Elle & Vire" ] and white sugar to taste.
A few summers ago, I was stalking an antique “kamagong” aparador somewhere in Tayuman district in Tondo when the car broke down. It had conveniently stopped in front of a “Halo-halo” stand in front of a pleasant-looking little house manned by a young mother and her well-scrubbed children. Looking at the ingredients in closed bottles — “saba,” “mongo,” “ube,” “gulaman,” the styrofoam icebox, and the ice shaver, I decided to give it a try and ordered two for my driver and I. It was good and had that elusive, nostalgic, pedestrian taste I remembered from childhood. Cost: Php 20 each.
While the A-crowd can have their chichi “Halo-halo” at the top hotels, and the regular Joes can have theirs in the various “Halo-halo” outlets at the malls, I’ve always felt, and strongly, that authentic Filipino “Halo-halo” is the one found on the streets, in the “sari-sari” stores, and house fronts. It has to have that nostalgic “cheap” taste. After all, “Halo-halo” is a descendant of the PreWar Japanese vendors’ “Mongo con hielo” found in populous Quiapo, Santa Cruz, and Avenida. It was so common that no upper-class matron of that time would have served “Halo-halo” at her elegant “asaltos,” “bienvenidas,” and “despedidas.” It was really “PPP” proletarian, plebeian, and pedestrian… during PreWar, at least.
In the 1950s, the generation of my parents used to go to “Little Quiapo” for “Halo-halo” after watching movies along the Escolta or Avenida…
Nowadays, the chichi go to the Manila Peninsula hotel lobby for the “Halo-halo” of upper-class Manila [ seems like any other "Halo-halo" to me; I've always wondered if they should up the ante and make the ice out of "Evian" and throw in fruit preserves and "marrons glaces" from "Fauchon" for good measure ]. The regular Joes head for the various “Halo-halo” chains in the malls and elsewhere like “Digman” of Bacoor, “Icebergs,” “Razon’s” of Guagua, and “Kabigting’s” of Arayat [ Ayala Marquee mall, Angeles ], etc..
Ideally, as with everything else, the best “Halo-halo” should be made at home, bursting with all the yummy ingredients…
So, what’s your favorite “Halo-halo”???
Funny story about “Halo-halo”:
My Valdes cousin Susie Tinio Arroyo was telling me of the time she went with a mostly female tour group to Taal, Batangas. The Coaster bus was full. As expected, they visited the sanctuary of the miraculous Our Lady of Caysasay. When they were leaving the shrine, their tour guide pointed to a nearby roadside stall and said that the best “Halo-halo” was to be found there. The 90 year-old Taalena proprietress was known to prepare and stew all the yummy ingredients herself. Mouths watering, the entire group of 35 foodies immediately flocked to the roadside stall and ordered a “Halo-halo” each. It turned out that the 90 year-old woman was the only one preparing the “Halo-halo”: she huffed and puffed and hyperventilated as she hurriedly shaved the ice and frantically prepared “Halo-halo” for the 35 surprise customers from Manila. Yes, the “Halo-halo” was goooood!!! Cousin Susie pitied the 90 year-old woman who panted to the 35th glass of “Halo-halo”…
And just as the 90 year-old woman handed the 35th Halo-halo glass to the last of the tourists, another Valdes cousin, Bunny Katigbak Fabella, stood up and requested: “May I have more ice, please?”
*LOLSZ!!!* Cousin Susie could hardly contain her laughter!!!