“What shall we do?!” Prathibha asked when I chanced upon her online and read that Pooja was making a last minute request to allow us into the course.
“Have I let you try ‘halohalo’ when you were here?” I asked back.
“No,” she said.
“Halohalo,” I said, suppressing my guilt for neglecting her, “is a Tagalog word for ‘mixture.’ This Filipino delicacy is a mixture of a variety of sweetened fruits, beans, langka, jellies, lecheflan with crushed ice, topped by a scoop of ice cream, sprinkled with crunchy chips. It’s so sweet and creamy and crunchy all at the same time, you’d forget everything once you tasted it.”
“I wish I had that now,” she said. “The news has been so devastating to me.”
So, with a broken heart and a gnawing stomach, and a futile wish that Prateeh (in Kathmandu) were here, I set out to my favourite halohalo parlor, known in Davao as Mercorner, because it sits in a junction where Mt. Apo Road slants irregularly towards where it meets Quirino only to get lost and emerge at the other side as Duterte street. Merco’s homegrown icecream shops have been known for years in Davao, so that the moment I ordered it, the waiter broke into a smile, I almost thought he knew what was on my mind.
The halohalo that day - in Merco, they always come in tall glasses - was just as I expected it: the creamy smoothness of the ube ice cream contrasting with the rough crunchiness of the chips in my tongue. I almost gobbled up the whole scoop on top even before I can stir it with the mixtures at the bottom.
For this is what halohalo is all about: it had to be stirred and mixed together, so that, in the end, it will lack the steady and consistent smoothness of an ice cream. The roughness of crushed ice both shocks and delights the tongue, carrying with it a hint of flavour, a prelude to the variety of tastes and textures soon to follow.
With halohalo, every scoop is both a surprise and a new experience; at one moment, you ladle a fibrous piece of langka to taste its melting sweetness; and then, the next moment, a scoop of smooth jellies linger and titillate your tongue; and then, all of a sudden, you find beans, thick and starchy, crushing under your teeth; and so on.
Scoop after scoop, I savored those brief, delicious moments, drawing enough lessons from the beans and the jellies and enough sweetness to last a lifetime.
For halohalo has always been more than pleasure of the palate for me. I have sought it, time and again, when life starts to turn sour or bitter.
And that Friday afternoon, for both Prateeh and me, life indeed was soooooo bitter, I was only too glad for just a glass of sweetness!