Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Halo-Halo Special

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(This was supposed to be posted way way back. Like a couple of weeks ago. My bad.)

I was running an errand for my father earlier, running to the store to buy a bottle of Coca-Cola. Since it's the summer here in the Philippines, everybody who's even halfway enterprising has set up a stall selling halo-halo, which is pretty much heaven in a tall parfait glass or a plastic cup during the warmer months.

Glorious. None of that Chowking bullcrap for me.

What is it? For the uninitiated non-Pinoy, halo-halo is that holy grail of sidewalk foodstuffs during summer that nobody in his right mind would deny. It is a conglomeration of pandan and coconut jelly, chickpeas, mung beans, saging na saba, corn kernels, pounded dry rice, sugar and shaved ice topped with evaporated milk with a slice of the local custard on top. The really special variants will include coconut shavings and purple yam into the mix. Then you mix, mix, mix the contents around, before you start spooning it into your mouth.

If you're a Pinoy kid who never experienced the joys of halo-halo on summer, you are to be pitied.

Ahem. Anyway. I was buying a bottle of Coke when I saw that the mini mart had opened up their own halo-halo stall - which was excellent, because there can't be enough halo-halo vendors during the summer. I speaketh no bullshit - it gets that hot here in this country, or at least in Manila. But while I was waiting for the woman to finish with her current customer so that I could get the bottle of Coke, something unusual struck my fancy.

The woman was frowning. She looked like she'd rather be elsewhere, and that was considering that she didn't really have to fill a tall parfait glass with the condiments. The halo-halo these guys were making came in those hardly five inches tall plastic cups that would break if the wind blew on them, and yet she was making such an annoying show out of it that I couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at the entire thing.

Let me explain. Back when I was a kid, my next door neighbors were the halo-halo kings along our street. They would set up this table outside their driveway, bring out these big-ass jars of ingredients and a variety of tall glasses, a huge ice chest, AND - get this - an ice shaver. One of those manual implements that looked like it had remained unchanged ever since before the industrial revolution. It had a crank that would require considerable effort to turn considering it was solid ice it was churning, and it was cool to see the folks who ran the stall have at it whenever they'd run out of reserve ice. They'd sweat like fuck-all, but the kids enjoyed waiting, and you know the vendor had fun too, when they exchanged a freezing glass for fifteen pesos with a smile.

That's dedication for you. None of these people who have too many important things to do that they can't mix a small cup of halo-halo with a smile. These guys were the heroes of the street urchins - myself included - during those hot summer afternoons, and it's a pity that it's hard to find somebody who put so much effort and love into churning enough ice to fill the tall halo-halo glasses waiting in the hands of small and sweltering kids that smelled of sun (thanks to Nina for this little bit of transliteration, haha: I wouldn't know how to describe amoy araw in English) due to an afternoon out in the streets playing games that only children will know well.

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