On my 23rd birthday, I landed in Manila, Philippines after spending time in Indonesia. I was super tired and it was brutally hot. My great aunt—a nun for 60-plus years whom we call Tita Yoly that can out-walk me any day—took me to the nearest bakery to choose a cake. I chose a mango cake and ube cake roll. Both were excellent, but after dinner, I knew I wanted one of the best traditional Philippine desserts I’ve ever had: Halo-Halo.
Pronounced “hallow-hallow,” this Filipino dessert translates to “mix-mix” in Tagalog. I’m half Filipino and super proud of my heritage. While most kids eat snow cones growing up—which I still did as well since I was born in the land of snoballs (NOLA)—I spent a lot of time enjoying a cold, refreshing Halo-Halo at my Lola’s (that’s grandma in Tagalog) house in St. Louis during the summer.
As you can see in my diagram, this glorified snow cone is literally a giant mix of syrup-coated canned beans and coconut in the form of macapuno strings and gel. The coconut gel was always my favorite as a kid which are squishy, translucent cubes produced by the fermentation of coconut water and oh, so addicting.
After you layer up your sugary goodness, shaved ice is scooped over the top.
But wait, there’s more…
Traditionally, you’ll want to add a dollop of ube and sliver of leche flan to the top. Ube is a purple sweet potato that has been mashed with sugar and milk. It adds a creamy, sweet texture to your halo halo along with the velvety leche flan, or caramelized custard. As if it weren’t already overwhelmingly full of sugar, it all comes together by dousing the whole dessert in a stream of canned evaporated milk.
In St. Louis, we buy our ingredients from an international grocery store that has an aisle with Philippine items. The Halo-Halo jars are lined up on shelves filled with the beans, coconut, ube and more. We line them up and buffet-style it to make Halo-Halo to your own taste.
And there you have it! They don’t call it mix-mix for nothing.