Halo-Halo: The Story Behind the Filipino Shaved Ice Dessert

Halo-halo isn't your typical shaved ice dessert. If you consider Panama's raspao, Italy's granita, Dominican Republic's frio frio, or United States' snow cone, then you already know none of these look anything like a layered, vibrant bowl of halo-halo.

It might look more like Malaysia's ais kacang or Korea's patbingsoo. But that's because, when it comes to all of these, it actually is all about the toppings.

The Filipino treat, served either in a tall glass or large bowl, combines shaved ice with evaporated milk and generous piles of sweet beans, jellies, and fruit. Sometimes there is a lavender-hued scoop of ube (purple yam) ice cream involved.

The name halo-halo means "mix-mix" in Tagalog, and the best way to eat it is to get in there and mix all the ingredients together. As for its origins, it is thought that halo-halo is a descendant of Japanese kakigori -- a traditional shaved ice treat. Today, it is served across the Philippines, everywhere from roadside stands or ritzy hotels.

In Miami, you can down a big bowl of halo-halo at Shokudo, the petite Asian bistro in Buena Vista. There, for $8, you get a heaping scoop of shaved ice with sweet milk, topped with sweet beans, jack fruit, coconut gelatin (nata de coco), and a mango mochi.

The trick is to first mix the ingredients and then eat slowly. Eventually, the shaved ice will liquify slightly and turn into a sweet slushie of evaporated milk. Then, the dessert reaches a perfect moment -- a point when the halo-halo is somewhere between its stage as a sundae, slushie, and liquid mess. That's when the multifarious textures cohere into a magnificent muddle of sweet beans, sugar and cold. That's when it's most delicious.

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