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Beating the heat with ‘halo-halo’

HALO-HALO with very fine ice brought to you by Kuya J’s.

HALO-HALO with very fine ice brought to you by Kuya J’s.

TEMPERATURES are rising by so much—both literally and politically—that we need to take a chill pill … or an order of really good halo-halo.

I badly needed halo-halo last week—from anywhere—and I stumbled upon a great find: Kuya J’s halo-halo.

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Kuya J’s is a relatively new Filipino fast food chain. You might recognize its model, Jericho Rosales, maybe because his name starts with a J, although I have been told he is not THE “Kuya J.” Kuya J’s branches have been popping up all over the metro.

I visited its Megamall branch—for the simple reason that I happened to be in Megamall after saying hi to some friends at the Tuesday Club Kapihan Forum at Edsa Shangri-La. And I was delighted by my find.

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Kuya J’s halo-halo is not your typical halo-halo. First of all, the sahog or ingredients are a bit different. While this one has leche flan and ube (but do not look for ube halaya or your lola’s leche flan because this is a fast food chain after all. No gourmet take here and may even taste quite commercial), instead of pinipig it uses cornflakes and it also does not have a lot of beans.

But the highlight of this halo-halo is the ice. I don’t know what kind of machine it uses—the people would not tell me, saying it is a trade secret—but the ice is so fine that it’s almost like a Japanese shaved ice dessert.

Plus, instead of freezing water, Kuya J’s freezes milk, so the flavor of the milk stands out. Also, it’s really convenient that you no longer need to add milk because it’s already there.

Best of all, an order costs only P99. This has to be among the cheapest out there!

* * *

Inspired by this halo-halo discovery, I asked my friends in the food community where they go for their halo-halo fix.

Claude Tayag, the ultimate Filipino gourmet, and wife Maryann, confess that they favor their own creation, the DownTown halo-halo. (Down Town is their restaurant in Angeles City, Pampanga). Maryann says it’s because “it’s just like how halo-halo was served in the ’60s”. You have a choice of special or regular, with the regular having no ice cream and the special offering ube ice cream.

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But the highlight is the sahog. DownTown’s contains mashed white beans, ube haleya (or halaya), saba, macapuno, cream corn, and—drumroll please—the signature crema de pastillas or pastillas made with carabao milk.

By the way, Mission Manila, a project to promote Filipino chefs and cuisine, in cooperation with La Camara, the Spanish Chamber of Commerce, is doing a repeat of the El Kusinero dinner of Claude Tayag, a dinner inspired by Madrid Fusion Manila. This time, it will be held at Artisan Cellar Door on May 19, Thursday. The El Kusinero dinner is a 10-course dinner with wine pairing and a lecture on Philippine cuisine by Chef Claude. For inquiries, please e-mail [email protected] or call or text 0919-5670325.)

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Private dining diva Aleth Ocampo also prefers Pampangeno halo-halo—clearly influenced by her Pampango roots as well. She likes Cabigting’s because of the addition of pastillas de leche, as with DownTown. But she loves Razon’s.

“The original one,” she stresses, not the Manila branches. Apparently, the original Razon’s signage is blue, not red. If you find yourself in Pampanga, look for the branch along the Gapan-Olongapo road, which you can access after exiting San Fernando on NLEX.

“We used to go to their house in Guagua,” Aleth recalls. “It was in the garage. You must order halo-halo with French fries and pancit luglug.”

But as with Kuya J’s, the highlight of the Razon’s halo-halo is the ice.

“Although Razon’s only has three sahog in it—leche flan, macapuno shreds and minatamis na saging saba—the texture of the ice is divine. It is super fine yet it doesn’t melt,” Aleth explains, “Part of the experience [of going to the original Razon’s] apart from the dusty, dirt road is hearing the ice being shaved by hand.”

* * *

Aleth’s kuya, however, the historian and Inquirer columnist Ambeth Ocampo, is loyal to the halo-halo of Milkyway.

After teaching me and my batchmate Neekelita to appreciate chicharon with aligue (you have to try this combination!), I have come to revere Professor Ambeth’s food advice as much as his history lessons.

In fact, if Max’s Fried Chicken is the house that fried chicken built, Milkyway is the house that halo-halo built.

I remember a conversation with its founder, the late Julie Araullo-Gamboa, mother of Chef J Gamboa, who shared with us the restaurant’s history: The American family that introduced Milky Way ice cream to the Philippines by way of an ice cream parlor on the Malacañang grounds sold the business to the Araullos, who later supplied the ice cream to various shops in Manila.

One day, the owner of then super-grocery store Uniwide in Makati told them to sell halo-halo at their food court so they opened a small kiosk.

What began as a small kiosk (located in a building that at the time would be considered a mall) expanded until they occupied the entire floor; and now, they have an entire building that is home not only to Milky Way but also to the Spanish restaurant Cirkulo, the Japanese restaurant Tsukiji and the Thai restaurant, Azuthai.

Another Inquirer columnist, the much respected and much missed late great Neal Cruz, who loved halo-halo, used to treat us friends from the media to halo-halo in Little Quiapo.

I first heard about this halo-halo from my old doctor and years later, with the Neal Cruz barkada, I was so happy to find that it is so consistently good. This halo-halo is really classic. A large parfait of fine ice filled with the best sahog, including kaong and langka.

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But great halo-halo is not limited to Manila.

In Bicol, it is a must to try DJC Halo-Halo (located at Landco Business Park, Legazpi City, call (052)4806868). This was introduced to me by my friend Tricia Tensuan of Enderun Colleges when we visited Misibis Bay. DJC’s halo-halo is packed with all the goodness of halo-halo that we are familiar with: Saba (plantain), leche flan, ube, sago, gulaman, corn. But what makes it different is the heaping of cheese on top. It’s no fancy cheese, just regular cheddar cheese, but it makes for a really good halo-halo!

In Cebu, Maricris Encarnacion suggests Iceberg’s. Thankfully, Manila has Iceberg’s too and I have, on record, expressed my love for it.

Even Singapore now has halo-halo, although a very cosmopolitan version of it.

Chef Iskander Latiff, Chef de Cuisine of the famous restaurant Coriander Leaf, is married to a Filipina.

When new owners re-opened the restaurant with a pan-Asian menu, he made a halo halo-inspired dessert.

Check it out: It has shaved ice, leche flan, langka.

He also added sweet potato, replaced pinipig with frosted flakes, and incorporated a mango granita for a sweet and tangy accent.

But here’s the kicker: This is topped with ice cream made of White Rabbit (the candy). It is fabulous!

* * *

Whether you get it at Kuya J’s (can’t beat that price) or Milkyway’s—or simply at Chowking or Aristocrat, as suggested by doctor/foodie Melissa Young, in this heat, it is always a good idea to have great halo-halo.

While we wait with bated breath for our new President and Vice President to be proclaimed, let’s all chill out, shall we?

We may achieve world peace yet … with a bowl of halo-halo.

Kuya J’s (best on the menu is actually their crispy pata) L G/F SM Megamall, Bldg A, Julia Vargas Ave cor Edsa.

For all branches, visit their page Kuya J Restaurant on Facebook.

More food finds in margauxsalcedo.com. Follow @margauxsalcedo on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

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TAGS: Cuisine, dessert, food, Halo-halo, summer
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