Halo Halo: Manila Gardens vs. Woo Lae Oak (!)
- Jess Nepo
When last week's heat wave hit, I sought relief in a big ol' halo halo from Manila Gardens on 14th St. in Manhattan.
I'm fond of Manila Gardens for many reasons: the food that tastes like my lola was reigning in the kitchen, the cheerful service, and endearing, slightly cheesy live pianist and singer. Any Filipino worth his or her salt will agree that fil-am food tastes best when accompanied by broadway hits of yesteryear. So Manila Gardens came through for me this time, with a terrific, bigger-than-my-head halo halo.
They get all the details right: shaved ice in a parfait glass, layered with buko (young coconut), langka (jackfruit), sticky, chewy ube (purple yam), sweet mung beans, bits of mango, and other good things. Filipinos love to snack, and halo halo at merienda is a classic, merienda being an afternoon snack time similar to British teatime in length and variety of items.
Imagine my surprise when I dined at Woo Lae Oak a few days later when our waiter started to describe one of the desserts. "Tropical snow" consisted of a "halo halo-style" (sic) bowl of shaved ice, coconut, mixed fruits, mung beans, and "the best dried mango I've ever had!" (the guy definitely needed to take a trip to Jersey City's International Food Mart). Curious, my Filipino buddy and I ordered it. Yikes! What a mess, like they didn't even try. They took a classic and, because they were stingy with the ingredients...it just wasn't SYRUPY enough...screwed it up. It's a shame, because the rest of our meal was delish.
We had a good laugh, though, at the idea of Filipino cooking being co-opted as fancy haute cuisine. Has anyone else had any halo halo worth having again?
What you describe sounds like "Paht Bingsoo." Its a favorite dessert among Koreans during the summer. You basically have shaved ice, and the sweet red beans ladled on top, and then the variations start from there. Some places pour a bit of condensed milk to sweeten it up, other places put candied fruit on top, other places put fresh fruit on top.
I always thought Bingsoo had its origins in Japan...since the Japanese seem to enjoy the same type of sweet red bean filling. Didn't know that they ate this sort of thing in the Philippines, but if you think about it I guess it makes more sense!
re: Michael Yu
Wow, Michael. Thanks for the info. Why, oh why, did Woo Lae Oak not just call the dessert by its Korean name, and not by the cutesy "Tropical Snow?" It's a little weird, because many other items on the menu were at least initially described by their Korean monikers. Also, the server described the dessert as "halo halo style," which really confused our table.
re: Jess Nepo
i think it's rather odd that they didn't call it that as well. the only thing i can think of is that in certain "americanized" zones in korea, they also give it an americanized name. case in point is the burger king at itaewon, where a lot of u.s. soldiers hang out, which calls it the tropical blizzard. if you can ever get a good rendition of the stuff though, it can be quite memorable.