The La Nina phenomenon has not only robbed me of my summer but an excuse to eat Halo-Halo everyday. Halo-Halo, the Filipino version of the ubiquitous Asian shaved ice dessert. A basic shaved ice dessert would consist of milk, coconut creme, sugar, boiled sweetened fruits and beans and jellies. It’s a labor intensive dessert because one has to prepare the ingredients individually. Churning shaved iced back then meant manually cranking an ice machine or the using the antiquated ice shaver (it looks like a wood planer) — a total cardiovascular workout. Nowadays, we have machines that make the finest shaved ice.
Ais kacang, cendol, che, each country has their own version .
Nam Kang Sai / Cendol
The nam kang sai I’ve seen and eaten in the streets of Thailand are like snow cones drizzled with colorful sala syrup. Sala syrup is made from the snake fruit (salak), a tropical palm fruit found in Thailand and Indonesia. I remember being mesmerized in the sala syrup aisle of Tesco Supermarket in Bangkok. They come in all colors and flavors of the rainbow — just think of all the excellent cocktails you can come up with using this syrup! Well, that’s another topic.
This spiffy looking food cart in Siam was selling another kind of shaved ice dessert. The vendor patiently explained each ingredient in her broken English except the dried fruit (she only knew the Thai word for it). This version consist of nata de coco, gingko bilboa nuts, coconut sugar, a type of sweet dried fruit. If you have the weird habit of eating ice like I do, you will enjoy the big chunks of ice. The shaved is placed on op rather than the bottom. I ate the exactly similar ais kacang in Malacca.
The first thing anyone notices about Cendol is the pandan flavored green worm-like jelly made from rice flour. Fear not for they are delicious. Savor quickly before the chunks of ice melts.
Cendol and other shaved ice desserts are popular in the port cities of Malaysia. I’ve had one of the best Cendols in Malacca, so good I would dream about it every now and then. A friend took me a to a small food shop far from the tourist trail. I would tell you where it is if I can remember the name. They served the perfect cendol with the right balance of fine shaved iced, coconut creme (not coconut milk) and gooey palm sugar (gula melaka).
ABC stands for Air Batu Campur or “Mixed Ice” closely resembles Halo-Halo with its variety of ingredients. I wasn’t a big fan of this perhaps because of the red syrup. There’s something about red syrup that turns me off. I only like red syrup in cocktails.
Es Teler, I think it should be renamed to stellar! I was introduced to this Indonesian delight when at a quaint warung in Bali (an Indonesian food shop). I had a little sip and I finished everything in one fell swoop. Es teler is shaved ice with a mix of avocado and young coconut, sometimes served with jackfruit and grass jelly. When I was a kid my granny told me I couldn’t certain combinations of food – like coconut and avocado, for they would make an unpleasant chemistry in my stomach but stellar es teler proved that was not true. It made glorious harmony in my tongue and remains on top of my list.
Halo-halo, there’s no limit on how many ingredients you can shove in your glass as long as they can fit and won’t miraculously spill when you mix it. There are versions topped with cornflakes, an alternative to the pinipig or pounded thin glutinous rice. A “special” means your dessert comes with a scoop of ice cream, ube halaya (purple yam) or leche flan on top. The best way to eat the topping is not to mix it with everything because all the flavor profile will be lost. You want to savor that ube halaya and leche flan on its own.
I like my Halo-Halo simple. Razon’s of Pampanga version has only three ingredients – macapuno, saging na saba (plantains) and leche flan. They use fine shaved ice and a healthy serving of milk and it melts the moment it hits my tongue.
Then there’s the posh Halo-Halo in Season Four of Top Chef by Dale Tagle. Dale, by the way, is back in the 8th season of Top Chef All Stars. Halo-halo reminded him of growing up in the Philippines and its hot summer sun.
The Halo-Halo was among the three favorites for this challenge. It was a toss between the Halo Halo and Richard Blais’ Banana scallop. Richard won the challenge though.
Dale’s Halo-Halo recipe can viewed here.