Beat the heat with an ice-cold halo-halo

Halo-halo, a filipino summertime dessert

The erratic drops in temperature are hinting at summer’s demise, but the city’s forecast for the long weekend promises a brief heat wave to cap off the season. Torontonians can expect to sweat, but cooling off has never been easier. Among the multiple options available, Toronto’s multiculturalism offers a variety of refreshing drinks hailing from all corners of the world.

The Filipino community is especially lucky to have and share a drink that doubles as a cold dessert: halo-halo is a Filipino dessert-drink that is part slushie and part sundae. Literally translated from Tagalog, halo-halo means “mix-mix”, and it is the perfect name for this distinctly delicious concoction.

The basic foundation of halo-halo is shaved ice that is bathed with either evaporated milk or condensed milk. What differentiates this pairing from a snow cone is the inclusion of fruits (such as jackfruit, plantain, and coconut palm), beans (garbanzo, kidney, and red), and tapioca underneath the ice, as well as the leche flan (Filipino custard), pinipig (young crushed rice), and ube (purple yam) ice cream that is used to top the dessert.

The ingredients listed above are not finite; recipes vary from region to region, and individuals are also free to manipulate halo-halo to their liking. Filipino-American chef, Dale Talde, prepared a unique version of the dessert on the reality TV show Top Chef. His halo-halo featured avocado, kiwi, mango, and nuts, and was well received.

Halo-halo from Top Chef

Regardless of what the components are, the dessert will always include a varied mixture of assorted ingredients.  Cultural activist and performing artist, Carlos Celdran, often uses halo-halo as a metaphor for Filipino culture—the dessert is made up of a multitude of ingredients, mirroring our country’s unique culture that is the result of influences from American, Spanish, and Japanese colonization.

The origins of the first halo-halo are difficult to trace, but historical records reveal that in the 1940s, Japanese women groups introduced a variation of the ice dessert in the Philippines and perhaps incorporated local ingredients later. Historically, halo-halo was sold along roadside stands in the Philippines during the summer months (March to July). This was not only because of the heat, but also because of the availability of the seasonal ingredients.

Tsaa Tea Shop

Today, halo-halo can be found in shopping malls, restaurants, and in homes. The dessert drink is also gaining some popularity among non-Filipinos in Toronto. Tsaa Tea Shop on the Danforth serves a mean halo-halo amidst an endless list of teas.

When fighting off the sweltering heat this weekend, be sure to pick up this chilling treat that will quench your thirst and satisfy your sweet tooth!