Sweet fruit & bean mixtures ready to go!
The most famous icy concoction of the Philippines could well be Haluhalo. To align with Western meal concepts, it’s been referred to as a “dessert” when it used to be mainly enjoyed on hot summer afternoons. These days, almost any occasion can be used as an excuse to enjoy this cold treat, particularly after lunch or dinner.
Haluhalo consists of a blend of fruits, sweet preserves, and evaporated milk, topped with shaved ice and optionally a scoop of ice cream. The name literally means “Mix-Mix” in the Tagalog language, in reference to the hodgepodge of ingredients needing to be mixed throughly before enjoyment.
Typical ingredients are kaong (palm fruit), macapuno (young coconut), langka (jackfruit), munggo (mung beans), saba (plantain), ube (purple yam), mais (corn), nata de coco (coconut gelatin), garbansos (chickpeas), pinipig (crisped rice), and sago (pearls similar to boba).
You can buy these ingredients separately, and that was what had been done by haluhalo makers for decades. Families kept several jars of the different sweet preserves, scooping an ingredient from each of the containers a little at a time, assembling them in a serving glass.
Recently, however, companies have made the procedure more convenient by combining various ingredients in one bottle!
For example, the Masagana brand of halo-halo mix includes the following in one jar: macapuno strings, purple-yam jam, sugar palm fruit, white beans, red munggo beans, chickpeas, nata de pina, and nata de coco.
Other popular brands of halo-halo mixes are Jonas, Tropics, Kapuso, UFC, and Laguna. With such an assortment of ready ingredients available in one container, all that’s left to do is get some shaved ice and perhaps a sliver of leche flan and a scoop of ice-cream sprinkled with crushed corn flakes.
Ready for a bit of haluhalo history?
There is little debate surrounding the origins of haluhalo, as the introduction of commercial ice-making to the tropics was very well-documented. It was the people of Japan in the early 20th century, before the Second World War, who were known to specialize in preserving different kinds of beans in thick syrup. In fact, the Japanese kakigori is a direct relation of the Filipino haluhalo.
If a distinction were to be made between kakigori and haluhalo, it would be that the “classic” interpretation of haluhalo places the fruit and beans at the bottom of a tall serving glass topped with ice, whereas Japanese kakigori is known for usually placing the distinctive flavorings on top of a fluffier form of shaved ice.
Almost every country in the Asia-Pacific region has an icy treat similar to the haluhalo of the Philippines. They are Ais kacang (in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei), Cendol (in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Thailand), Es campur (in Indonesia), Es teler (in Indonesia), Patbingsu (in Korea), Baobing (in China), Nam keng sai (Thailand), Chè ba màu (in Vietnam) and Sâm Bổ Lượng (in Vietnam). The ingredients of course vary due to availability and local tastes.
Theoretically, any fruit or beans from the tropics that are mixed with ice can comprise haluhalo. (Remember that the term literally means “mix-mix.”) But you can show your familiarity with Filipino food culture by using a haluhalo mix produced by Philippine companies featuring the iconic ingredients.
And don’t forget that it’s not fresh milk that’s added, but condensed or evaporated out of a can. This is because in the past without the benefits of widespread refrigeration in individual households, the hot climate guaranteed that fresh milk wouldn’t last very long unspoiled. And who doesn’t prefer a more concentrated form of sweetness permeating the shaved ice anyway?
For extra authenticity, use a tall glass and a long spoon. Don’t use plastic cups, please.
Dig in, halo-halo, and enjoy!
According to strict spelling rules of the Tagalog language, this food item is spelled haluhalo, while the compound adjective is spelled halo-halo.
Kumain tayo ng haluhalo.
Let’s eat haluhalo.