Ghosts of Halo-Halo Past, Present and Future

Summer in the Philippines is characterized by the unrelenting presence of the Sun. The Sun floods the land with yellow warm light. It is time for one of three of the most cherished ice concoctions of Filipinos the Halo-Halo, the other two – the mais con hielo and the sago & gulaman. It is one of the ways Filipinos combat the heat and enjoy summer.


Ice and everything nice (and sweet). Ice came to the Philippines sometime between the late Spanish and the early American Period, Blocks of ice were shipped here from the United States. It was used for preserving the freshness of food and for cooling beverages. Prior to this Filipinos had clay jars that kept the water cool when stored. Ice was a luxury that had a premium price. Probably until electricity came and ice plants were set-up around the Philippines – again used tp keep food fresh and provide cold beverages. The other ingredients were garbanzos, ube, gulaman, banana, sago, pinipig and other sweetened stuff. This was placed in a glass; which was then packed with finely shaved ice; topped with leche flan; and then milk was poured over the mix. The Halo-Halo was served with a spoon used to mix it together and eaten.


Each Summer, Halo-Halo stands would mushroom just about everywhere. A small table filled with jars or bowls of ingredients and a block of ice covered with towel would greet the customer. A steel ice shaver would be used to get the ice and reduce it to fine ice particles resembling snow. Each customer would see the Halo-Halo is assembled before him or her. They would also hear the kas-kas of the ice shaver as it shaves the ice block. This rainbow concoction comes as is or can be topped with leche flan, or ube. Furthermore you can also get it in the usual size, large or even according to your own specification. Punters could bring their own glass. It was not uncommon for people to use those big glass coffee containers for their Halo-Halo.

One of the better known halo-halo at that time was said to be in Pagsanjan, Laguna. The best place I had Halo-Halo was on top of a hill in the town of Miag-ao, Iloilo.

The ice shaver that looked like a carpenter tool gave way to machines that could crush and shave ice. Initially, it was hand operated but this soon gave way to motorized shavers and ice machines.

Restaurants and commercial food stalls began to appear. In Icebergs the halo-halo was served im bowls. And Digman- Isang Dosenang Sarap Halo-Halo made its presence felt in food courts at malls.

And the Special Halo-Halo was now topped with ice cream.


Today, Halo-Halo can be bought from Razon s, Iceberg, Chowking, restairants and Halo-Halo bars at all-you-can eat places. Now and then you can still some enterprising persons set-up a neighborhood Halo-Halo stand. Just open up the gate and set-it up.

But if you so desire Halo-Halo that is quality go to the town of Nasugbu look for Aling Celings. Eveeyone in Nasaugbu knows it, They open at 4 in the afternoon. They serve Halo-Halo at the ground floor of their house. The first thing you notice on the table is a bowl of sugar. This Halo-Halo is not over-sweetened. Its ingredients are prepared by Aling Celing and only her everyday. The Halo-Halo is the least sweet, yet also the most delectable. It is said that a big food corporation tried to buy the recipe from Aling Celing but was unsuccessful.


With the weather going the way that it is. Each Summers seems to be a visit from heat of Vulcan or Hephaestus forge. It is certain that Halo-Halo is here to stay and be part of the Filipino culture. Will it be in a more commercial form not only available in restaurants and food courts but will someone bottle it up and offer it in the supermarket as something you just add ice to? Will there ever be a sugar-free Halo-Halo?

Will Aling Celing eventually pass on her recipe and technique to another? Will it just be rediscovered again?

Whatever it will be the Halo-Halo will continue to be a favorite of Filipinos

This entry was posted in Stories and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply