It’s the treat so nice you say it twice. From the Tagalog for “mix-mix,” halo-halo is a frozen Filipino dessert that’s meant to be stirred until the rainbow of ingredients comes together in a delicious hodgepodge parfait.
While the dish’s contents seem incongruous, each filling plays a role in crafting a treat that’s equal parts decadent and refreshing, making it the perfect snack on a sweltering day in Manila. The shaved ice sets the cool tone. The chewiness of red beans, gelatin, and tender coconut contrasts nicely with the crunch of toasted rice. And the sweetness of local fruits and tubers (jackfruit, banana, a purple yam–based jam) blends with the creaminess of the evaporated milk, leche flan, and dollop of lavender purple yam ice cream.
The mix of ingredients also speaks to the diverse cultures at work in Filipino cuisine. There’s American influence: With the United States’ occupation came the construction of Manila’s Insular Ice Plant in 1902, providing the essential shaved-ice base. The Japanese can be credited with halo-halo’s ice-sweetener-bean combination, a nod to the dessert known as kakigori that immigrants brought to the Philippines in the 1900s. And hints of Spain’s colonial era can be detected in the leche flan.
Perhaps it’s this melting-pot quality that inspires chefs to experiment with their own interpretations, which range from the madcap to the remarkably pared down (the popular version at Filipino chain Razon’s uses only ice, flan, banana, and coconut). Which is why you should always review the menu to make sure the place serves the version of halo-halo you’re looking for. One chef’s toasted rice and gelatin cubes is another’s Cap’n Crunch and melon-flavored tapioca pearls.
Need to Know
You can find halo-halo all over the Philippines, and worldwide at the fast-food restaurant Jollibee. If you’re feeling inspired, you can try your hand at making halo-halo at home using provisions from a local Asian supermarket. Get creative, and don’t forget to mix it up.
Where to Try It
The MilkyWay Cafe900 Antonio Arnaiz Ave, 2nd floor, Milkway building, Makati City / Metro Manilla, 1200, The Philippines
A historic spot in the metropolitan area of Manila that has long served cold treats and been visited by prominent Filipinos. The location is a modern building, but the brand goes back to the 1950s.
Coco Leaf1480 Dorchester Avenue, Dorchester, Massachusetts, 02122, United States
Ask for the che halo-halo at the counter of this Vietnamese dessert shop.