At the end of the Mass every Sunday in the small parish I’ve attended since my family moved to Muntinlupa in 1984, there are certain aromas, flavors, and sounds that have become part and parcel of the Lord’s Day in my part of town.
Almost as soon as the final notes of the recessional hymn have died off and are replaced by the chattering hubbub of exiting parishioners, one catches a whiff of fish balls being fried outside in a wok mounted onto a rolling cart. There is the scent of fresh fruit sold by the ambulant fruit vendor who always has bananas and small kalamansi limes on her pushcart along with fruit in season such as mangoes, green-skinned native oranges (dalandan), or perhaps large, pale green-skinned guavas. There is the familiar honk of the pan de sal (salt-bread) seller’s horn on his bicycle as he makes his rounds throughout the community; in the air, all other aromas are subdued by the scent of fresh bread baking at the panaderia (bakery) from whence the seller picks up his wares. You can hear the taho (tau fu far) vendor shouting “Tahoo-o-o!” on his daily trot, shouldering the massive stainless steel cylinders holding silken tofu, dark brown sugar syrup, and sago.
And there is the cheerful tinkle of the sorbetero‘s (ice cream man) bell, calling children and their parents over to his cart to partake of what is popularly referred to as dirty ice cream. This confection is so called because well-heeled matrons in past decades told their children not to eat it, claiming that it was “dirty” and prepared under unsanitary conditions. Kids being kids, these well-meaning mothers were ignored and aforementioned ice cream was consumed with sheer delight.
Sorbetes, the Spanish word for that entire range of frozen delights that covers everything from fruity sherbets to lush ice creams, is the proper name for dirty ice cream. It is not as refined or as unctuously creamy as commercially prepared ices, but it has the virtue of being both cheap and delicious as these are made with seasonal and locally-sourced ingredients.
It is a touch icier in texture; indeed, it isn’t uncommon to encounter a bit of a crunch from ice crystals. It also isn’t as milky or creamy as commercial ice cream as there is a bit of coconut milk or cream used in the bases along with the dairy. But you could really taste the fruit used in making these ices: the almost floral sweetness of fresh mango, the high and funky taste of ripe jackfruit, the creamy bittersweetness of avocado, and the nutty flavor of fresh, young coconut. In times when no fruit of the earth is ripe enough for mixing in, local ice cream makers also make ices with cocoa powder (a sweetly smoky ice), ube (purple yam; the taro used by milk-tea brewers), and even cheese which makes a delicious salty-sweet iced treat.
Five pesos (approximately US$ 0.11) gets you a small waffle or sugar cone piled high with scoops of all three of the flavors currently available in the sorbetero‘s cart (He usually has just three) or of any one flavor of your choice. Ten pesos gets you a small plastic cup with a spoon and fifteen gets you an ice cream sandwich where the ice cream scoops are piled into a split sweet bun.
Sorbetes on a Sunday morning…sometimes, life doesn’t get any sweeter than this.