We’re in the thick of the summer season, and these past days have been really hot and humid.
So apart from cooling down with ice-cold water, there are the good old Pinoy summer coolers for the season. Restaurants, particularly those serving Filipino food, automatically roll out a menu of cool summer drinks and desserts and almost all can be ordered online. Better yet, you can make these at home yourself.
Also, around residential communities, stalls, carts and kiosks appear in strategic corners to offer icy treats assembled a la minute as customers come.
Leading the way is halo-halo, that quintessential Filipino shaved-iced dessert and snack with evaporated milk in a tall glass with a mixture of gelatin cubes, beans, garbanzos, nata de coco, kaong, halayang ube, macapuno strips, sago, caramelized saba bananas, and leche flan either at the bottom or on top, crowned by a scoop of ube ice cream.
On a hot summer afternoon, partaking of a glass of halo-halo can be pure magic.
It’s actually easy to assemble since a lot of ingredients can be bought in bottled form, ready to eat, but the secret of a really good halo-halo is one whose ingredients are mostly homemade.
Take Milky Way’s halo-halo, which many consider as the best halo-halo in town. It’s got 20 premium ingredients in each serving.
“They’re all made in-house, and our ice is hand-cranked on a traditional ice crusher to make sure it’s super fine,” explains chef J. Gamboa.
Other restaurants with outstanding versions are Kuya J’s with the milk fully incorporated into the finely shaved ice; Razon’s of Guagua, Pampanga is famous for its version which contains only three ingredients—saging na saba, macapuno, and leche flan with dayap rind.
Nowadays, halo-halo has evolved into milk tea too! Both Macao Imperial Tea and Kahatea have their versions. Macao calls its Cheesecake Halo-halo, a combination of the milk tea brand’s signature milk tea with cheesecake cream, grass jelly, taro bits, red beans, pudding and white pearls. Kahatea calls its own Halo-halo milk tea Sultan Kudarat, and it contains halayang ube, milk, shaved ice, black pearls, nata de coco, and coconut strings, among others.
At home, I make my own halo-halo, and I use fresh fruits like watermelon, mango, avocado, banana, orange segments and seedless grape.
Mais con yelo/saging con yelo
Two more specific versions of halo-halo are mais con yelo and saging con yelo. The first one is for people who simply love sweet corn. A generous amount of cream-style corn kernels in a tall dessert glass is filled to the brim with crushed ice and milk.
Saging con yelo has minatamis na saging or thick slices of saba bananas cooked in brown sugar until caramelized.
Most home-based halo-halo vendors also offer the two because they’re so easy to do.
Iskrambol or ice scramble
Ice scramble, better known as iskrambol, is one of our childhood summer comfort foods. It is a street food just like balot and penoy, taho, binatog and mais. The vendor wheels his makeshift cart with an ice crusher and containers of ingredients for his iskrambol. It’s crushed ice flavored with strawberry syrup (that’s why it’s pink!), loaded with marshmallows, powdered milk, chocolate chips and candy sprinkles, and drizzled with chocolate syrup.
During this pandemic, iskrambol made a strong comeback with neighborhood snack shops selling it in a levelled-up form. It now comes in big plastic cups in milk tea sizes. Online vendors offer it in 16oz., 22oz. and even bigger sizes, available any time of day and with free delivery at that.
In Cainta, Rizal, each subdivision boasts of at least one iskrambol vendor. One of them happens to be Street Picks, located in Marick Subdivision, which is near our place. They sell both classic scramble and ube scramble.
The iskrambol has also transformed into milk tea flavor courtesy of Kahatea, the first fully Filipino-themed milk tea brand in the country. Changing the game in the milk tea market, Kahatea offers one-of-a-kind Pinoy concoctions with its signature drink the Iskrambol Milk Tea.
This is a popular drink in Filipino restaurants. You can make the gulaman (gelatin, sliced into cubes) and the sago (tapioca) more dense with just a little water and syrup, then add crushed or shaved ice instead of ice cubes, and it can pass as a dessert.
A drink and a dessert in one makes it so versatile. Some replace regular sago with gummy black pearls usually used in milk tea.
Ginumis is a shaved ice dessert very similar to halo-halo but only has gulaman, sago, nata de coco, toasted pinipig, crushed ice, a syrup made with panocha, and fresh coconut milk instead of evaporated milk.
You can also add diced mango, while others prefer strips of langka (jackfruit) as topping.
When it’s summertime, neighborhood kids gather outside in the afternoon to wait for Mamang Sorbetero to pass by. Under the hot summer sun, his homemade “dirty ice cream” is a sure hit.
From his ice cream cart comes two or three flavors of sorbetes, usually cheese, ube and chocolate, although sometimes there is langka, mango and avocado, too. These days, a buko pandan choice of sorbetes flavor shouldn’t be surprising at all.
These are just some of the traditional summer coolers that keep Pinoys cool and refreshed throughout the hot, hot season. And don’t forget the ice candy, ice drop, homemade popsicle, buko pandan salad (and sa-malamig drink), and, yes, mango graham float.
The list is endless. So should your creativity in the kitchen be, too.