Growing up in Indonesia, summers were spent back in Manila and that meant one thing for me: halo-halo. My grandparents’ house was very near SM City North EDSA, which was the bomb back then in the early 80s, it being the first SM Supermall.
My fondest memory of that mall is the Digman’s Halo-Halo stall at the Food Court. Their slogan was something like, “Sandosenang sarap!” or something of the sort. (Then, as it is now, my Tagalog is sorely lacking). Behind glistening glass, tiered shelves held bowls of halo-halo’s requisite ingredients: ube, candied saba, garbanzos, red beans, gulaman, sago, leche flan, and others I don’t recall anymore. Those ingredients must’ve been fabulous fakes because they always looked so real; strangely enough however, I never saw the stall attendants scooping anything from those bowls. There were two types of halo-halo, a Regular and a Special. I always got the Special because it had a scoop of ube ice cream.
When I was 9 or 10, my Lolo introduced me to Icebergs halo-halo, his favorite when he was still alive. As a little girl who was used to this summer cooler being served in tall glasses, Icebergs’ goblet was quite the peculiarity but oh, how it gleamed like a jewel box of ingredients! “The best part,” I remember Lolo telling me quite seriously, his index finger raised like a teacher driving home a point, “is the macapuno ball. Every bowl always has one ball.”
Through the years, I’ve been romanced by various halo-halos. I like the one from Milky Way, and of course the Peninsula’s Halo-Halo Harana stupefies in sparkle and size. My mom, who’s never been a fan of Icebergs – “Halo-halo should never have cornflakes,” she sniffs – swears by Razon’s, she’s Kapampangan, after all. The idea of Razon’s all-white halo-halo is very appealing to me, as is their whisper-light shaved ice. Its simplicity is a cool contrast to the common colorful riot.
For me, almost all halo-halos are good but there are a few conditions. First, I detest gulaman – in any form, shape or color so I always fish those out along with the peaches. Halo-halo is a native specialty and peaches are not native. As much as possible, I want ice cream in my halo-halo, ube specifically; it’s just not the same otherwise. A store once offered me mango ice cream because they’d run out of ube. I ran out of the store in reply.
But my absolute, no-holds-barred favorite of halo-halo is the milk that pools at the bottom of the glass. Imbued with all the ingredients that have anointed it, it’s all at once sweet, fruity, cold – the perfect end to the perfect of summer coolers. And I’m not shy about asking the other people I’m eating with if I can have their halo-halo milk, should they decide they don’t want it. Not too long ago, I mentioned my love for halo-halo milk to my friend and artisan ice cream maker, Ian Carandang. And look at what he did .
So tell me: who serves the best halo-halo AND what ingredients do you not like in it?
Note: M.I.Y.O. Monday stands for Make It Your Own Monday, a question thrown out to DCF readers every Monday to jumpstart the week with lively interaction. I also welcome questions and suggestions for future MIYO Mondays. Email me.