By Jesse T. Reyes

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – If the Philippines – our beloved old homeland – has a ‘national dessert,’ it would definitely be the “halo-halo” – a creamy concoction of local and preserved fruits, sweet beans, sweetened banana and more, then topped with shaved ice, evaporated milk, “ube” (purple yam) ice cream and leche flan (egg custard).


There is no doubt, indeed that the halo-halo is symbolic to Filipinos because the Philippine heritage and culture is also a smorgasbord, a “mix-mix” of so many culinary and cultural influences; Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian, Spanish, American and many more.


“Mang Inasal,” the Philippines’ number one Pinoy branded eat out made Filipino dessert history recently when it unveiled the country’s first ever ‘National Halo-Halo Sarap Day’ last March 19th of this year.


It was the sweetest and coolest Sunday ever as Filipinos from all over the old country enjoyed servings of their favorite summer dessert and merienda, the halo-halo.


“Filipinos love halo-halo,” Mang Inasal Brand Manager Paygee Anne Palmos said.  “And this love is rooted in various reasons – from cultural to heartwarming personal stories and memories associated with family and loved ones.    With our well-loved ‘Pinoy Halo-Halo’ (PHH), we wanted to pioneer a celebration that everyone could easily relate to.  And with the hot Philippine summer settling in, we decided to launch a nationwide commemoration of our love for halo-halo.”


So…in celebration of the National Halo-Halo Sarap Day, excited diners flocked to over 450 Mang Inasal branches nationwide to avail of the ‘So Creamy, So Sarap’ merienda.


On that scorching Sunday, all Mang Inasal branches back in the old homeland offered the small Pinoy Halo-Halo for only 25 pesos (from 53 pesos) for the entire day.  The regular sized PHH was also available at a discounted rate of just 45 pesos (from 73 pesos).


Palmos added, “The shared love for halo-halo unites us as dessert-loving Filipinos.  We are proud and excited to lead this celebration of simple joy that brings together friends, families and loved ones.”


So, why indeed do our “kababayans” (fellow country folks) all love halo-halo so much to the point of even declaring a day of national observance?


Well, as in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘Sonnet 43’s “How do I love thee?” … Let me count the ways and reasons why to the depth and breadth and height … so here it goes to the level of every day’s most quiet need, by sun and candle-light… enjoy!


New Orleans has the ‘sno-ball’, a confection made with finely shaved ice and flavored cane sugar syrup; Italy’s got the ‘granite’ (a dessert that sits somewhere between sorbet and gelato or ice cream in the food spectrum), and the shaved-ice dessert of Colombia?  That would be the icy beverage ‘cholado.’


For the Filipinos, the sweet treat that goes by the name of halo-halo is the Tagalog word for “mix-mix.”


It may not sound that appetizing, but it is strangely delicious, too.  The multitude of ingredients somehow combines to make something extremely unique and memorable.


No ifs, and buts about it, Filipino Food is definitely inching its way up to become the next big Southeast Asian cuisine such as exemplified by the rising popularity of the Philippine delight halo-halo.


In a 2012 interview, Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel, indicated “I predict, two years from now, Filipino food will be what we will have been talking about six months now...I do think that it’s going to be the next big thing.”


And with the Filipino food having a moment here in our good, old US of A specifically in the “Big  Apple” itself - New York City’s nickname  (three classy Filipino restaurants have opened up there in the last few years) - not to mention the often stifling 90-degree weather especially in the summer months  – it truly was a perfect time to dig in, so to speak.


(Filipino restaurants in New York City – namely, ‘Maharlika’, ‘Pig and Khao’, and ‘Jeepney’ – have found spots in The New York Times’s Dining section and have been reviewed favorably by the Gray Lady’s critics.  The Spotted Pig, a darling in the food world, recently hosted a Filipino night, too.)


In the latest sign that New York City’s obsession with Filipino food is genuinely legit, halo-halo - “the absolutely insane, unapologetically messy, bean-encrusted dessert” as one American food writer insisted it is, is threatening to eclipse the breakfast pastry cronut as the summer’s best ever sweet treat.


Experts have been saying Philippine food is the next big thing.  So it comes as no surprise that there seems to be an immense interest in the distinctly Filipino dessert now well-known and very easily recognized as halo-halo (pronounced like hah-low rather than hay-low).


Halo-halo is traditionally served in layers in a cup or bowl:  First comes a hodgepodge of ingredients that can range from red beans and cocoa to fresh fruit, followed by a healthy scoop of shaved ice.  This is all topped with evaporated milk, ‘leche flan’,’ube’ ice cream, caramelized plantains, and strands of ‘macapuno’ (coconut).  The idea is to mix everything together and eat it like a sundae.


But, I say – a heavy, fudge-laden ice cream sundae it is not.


The relatively light toppings make the dessert incredibly refreshing – which is precisely the point since as someone puts it bluntly, “it’s hot as hell in the Philippines.”




So, what exactly is it?


Some desserts, like the cronut (it is fried and frosted, which really makes it a dessert) are lauded for their refinement and go about satisfying your taste buds in a surgical manner – so what about the halo-halo in comparison to it?


One food writer commented, “If the dessert world were tennis, those precious French pastries would be like Roger Federer – utterly refined, effortless and delicate.  Halo-halo, on the other hand, would be more like the physical behemoths that are Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams – instead of seducing your taste buds with style and delicacy; it obliterates them with muscle and force.”




While it’s hard to pinpoint the exact origins of halo-halo, someone did contribute that the creation of halo-halo is due to the old country’s lack of dairy.


Meanwhile, Nicole Ponseca who co-owns the Filipino gastropub ‘Jeepney’ in the East Village of New York City, said the original shaved ice dessert concept came from Japan, in the form of “kakigori” (typically milk, syrup and sweetened beans).


Leaving history aside, perhaps Anthony Bourdain explained it best.  After trying halo-halo on an episode of Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown in Los Angeles, he called it “oddly beautiful,” continuing, “it makes no goddamn sense at all.”


Bourdain also noted, “Filipinos are very proud of their food.  Under-represented!”


And truly a favorite TV host of mine, Anthony Bourdain does not kid about food when he comes around it.


I, myself – over years have found out that anyone (at your own risk) can get versions of halo-halo without beans, or even with jackfruit.  Sometimes the fruit changes…sometimes the ice cream flavors change.  I believe that’s absolutely the sort of the beauty of halo-halo – you can put anything you want in it, but the base stays the same – shave ice, ice cream, fresh fruit, some kind of jelly-like object, some kind of crunchy object like Rice Krispies, and milk or evaporated milk.


In learning to love the halo-halo, I’ve discovered that one of the big reasons folks like it is that, in spite of the bevy of ingredients that go into making one of these bizarre parfaits (as one NYC chef says it) – it’s actually a pretty light dessert.


Of course, not everyone is going to love it and it’s really hard to see that happening for halo-halo, in my personal opinion.


I fully endorsed to not pass up the opportunity to spend a buck or two and try a halo-halo if you find yourself in the Philippines.  And if you – my dear folks – still do not know about it, this dessert has been available in parts of the United States in recent years and even up to the present time.


So, behold then halo-halo – the Filipino Dessert that’s taking over America!




As the Bizarre Foods TV host likes to say it – if it is good, eat it!


The best part about halo-halo across the board… if you ask me?


Honestly, it’s one of those desserts that you can never be too full to order – even if you say you are.


I say – you should at least give it a try – or else risk missing out completely on America’s latest foodie craze.


Bon appetit!


And good eating!!



Photo: THE ULTIMATE FILIPINO DESSERT:  Halo-halo served at the Filipino gastropub ‘Jeepney’ in the East Village of New York City

Photo: SMILE, YOU’RE ON CANDID CAMERA!:  Excited diners flocked to over 450 ‘Mang Inasal’ branches nationwide in the Philippines to avail of the best-selling ‘Pinoy Halo-Halo’ discounted only for the special day

Photo: PINOY  SNOW:  Using the hypnotizing hand crank shaved ice machine for the halo-halo delight