Halo-Halo: A Dessert with a Sweet History | Daily Prompt: Local Flavor

Write a piece about a typically “local” experience from where you come from as though it’s an entry in a travel guide.


Summertime in the Philippines has always been associated with the halo-halo. Its sweet and brightly-colored ingredients along cold shaved ice make it a welcome respite from the heat.

Pronounced as “halò- halò” from the Tagalog word “halò,” meaning “mix,” its very name gives away how to eat the dessert: by mixing it. Traditionally, a spoon is used but—for the more adventurous types—there is the fork! Some stick with the spoon until the last drop but other resort to drinking it when all there’s left is melted ice.

But melted ice isn’t the only thing that makes it popular in the country.

Picking Regional Favorites

The traditional ingredients of the halo-halo can be found almost everywhere in the Philippines and is available all year round. The sweet treat is composed of sugar, red mung beans, boiled kidney beans, garbanzos, pinipig, gulaman, nata de coco, kaong, macapuno, caramelized plantains, and jackfruit. All of them are topped with shaved ice, evaporated milk, leche flan, and ube halaya.

A number of the regions and provinces of the country uses local sweets and fruits instead, to give it a more distinctly native flavor. So—depending where you are and what season it is—you could expect alternatives like mango, corn kernels, cheese, kamote, tapioca, custard, coconut, papaya, star apple, strawberries, and avocado.

Some even include other desserts like ice cream, yema, and bits of cake or icing!

A Sip of History

While such a dessert has fit perfectly to the Filipino taste, it didn’t originate in the country.

The exact beginning of the halo-halo is shrouded in mystery. Different sources claim that Japanese prostitutes who retired here introduced it while others say that the Chinese traders and businessmen helped spread it. It’s no wonder that Asian countries from the Far East to the South East have similar desserts.

Having such simple ingredients that could be switched in order to fit one’s tastes is a reflection of the Filipino’s adaptable and enduring spirit.

11 Comments Add yours

  1. Pingback: Mix-Mix | Fab Four
  2. Bipasha says:

    aha, I’ve tried this when I lived in Manila, it’s quite refreshing. I never guessed that it might have roots further east…


    1. Mati Serrano says:

      It is quite surprising. And yes, it is refreshing to have, specially now that it’s becoming warmer here again.


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