Whether sold in plastic cups on the street or in fancy decorative glasses in restaurants, halo-halo is always a colorful and cool retreat from the summer heat—especially the hot and humid weather of the Philippines. It’s a sweet and milky dessert made up of different layered textures, with ingredients like Nata de Coco (coconut jelly), sweetened saba (plantains), langka (jackfruit), sweet red monggo (red adzuki beans), corn, and even leche flan (caramel custard) adorning a pile of finely shaved ice. The dish is frequently topped with a scoop of bright purple ube (purple yam) ice cream, though in the Philippines you’ll also likely see genuine ube instead.
There is no set recipe for halo-halo. By nature, the dessert is personalized and tailored to individual taste. In some cases, the ingredients are laid out on a table with spoons in their respective containers so guests can pick out which toppings they want to go with their shaved ice.
Grill 21 in New York City serves a classic halo-halo, with all of the typical ingredients you’ll find in the Philippines. Most of the ingredients the restaurant uses are prepared in-house, such as the sweetened saba and langka mixture, the red monggo beans, and the sweet beans. Owner Rose Teves says that they typically cook the ingredients together to allow the flavors of the ingredients to mingle together. And her kitchen drizzles on a special sweet syrup for a unique touch. See how it all comes together in the video above.