Halo-Halo is one of the most popular summer desserts in the Philippines, one that takes a cue from such preparations of ice and candied / preserved fruit common to Southeast Asia such as ais kacang (air batu campur), cendol, and the Vietnamese sam bo luong. It is, in its most common incarnation, shaved ice mixed (hence the name halo-halo [mix it up]) with plantains, sweet potato, kaong (palm fruit), nata de coco, tapioca pearls, ube [purple sweet potato] puree, coconut shreds, red mung [adzuki] beans, colourful gelatine cubes, and chickpeas all cooked in syrup. A drizzle of evaporated milk straight out of a freshly-punctured tin finishes it off, though you can make it fancy through the addition of ice cream, custard flan, and puffed rice.
The standard halo-halo is a delight for many, but those of us who prefer simpler concoctions tend to find it overwhelming. The alternative for us is a simpler preparation made popular by Razon’s, a Pampanga-based restaurant chain that offers the simplest spin on a classic dessert: just shaved ice with sweetened coconut shreds, caramelised bananas, custard, and a drizzle of milk. Very simple, subtly sweet, it’s the sort of thing that helps a body cool down in the summer heat without resorting to the standard-issue baroque confection everyone else seems to be having.
If there is no branch of Razon’s anywhere near you, the Chinese fast-food chain Chowking offers a passable alternative in the form of its Milky White Halo-Halo. Similar to the Pampanga-born original, this is a simple combination of bananas, coconut, and custard with milk and ice and topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream to finish it off. Honestly, the chain does skimp on the key ingredients, but when the temperature hits the high thirties, you have to admit it does do the job of cooling you down.