Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Summer treat

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

Initially wanted to submit a piece about the way Congress handled the impeachment proceedings against the Ombudsman. However, I decided to ditch the idea because, really, what else is there to say that has not been said yet? Besides, the last few days have been depressing enough what with all these bad news coming our way from all over. I think we need to take a short break from politics.

Well, the weather bureau has announced that summer 2011 will be a welcome respite from the annual tradition of untold suffering from extreme heat. I think this is good news for many reasons. One, the consumption of electricity will hopefully not be as pronounced as in previous seasons. Two, this would mean less expenses for parents who would not be forced to bring their kids to the mall everyday to cool off. Three, a cooler summer would enable schoolchildren to enjoy their vacation from school.

Of course there are people in this country who refuse to put credence in whatever prediction our weather bureau makes and they cite quite a number of instances in the past when such predictions did not come to pass (and in some cases the exact opposite happened). By the way, I know the local weather bureau has a formal kilometric name, which also sounds overly pompous which I why I refuse to use it.

But whether it is going to be a scorching summer or not, I guess there is no stopping people from indulging in certain traditions associated with the season.

There was a time when this meant trudging up the hills of Antipolo to bathe in the waters of Hinulugang Taktak, offer prayers to the Lady of Peace and Good Voyage, and, because we are a people that cannot conduct our affairs without a indulging in a feast, gorge on a lot of suman sa ibos (a variety of rice cake) and mangoes. These days, bathing at the Hinulugang Taktak would be worse than being exposed to the radiation fallout from the nuclear power plants in Japan; that’s how polluted it has become.

Thanks to the wonders of consumerism, the current version of the pilgrimage to Antipolo is a trip to Boracay. This has become a status symbol of sorts for many people in this country; as some of my students tell me, summer is not complete if one has not frolicked in the white sands of the island. I am aware though that the percentage of time people actually spend on the beaches while in Boracay is miniscule compared to other pursuits – namely, partying, partying, and more partying – but who are we to argue about the real definition of fun?

I wish though that Filipinos discover other destinations in this country that are comparable – in my opinion, even better – than Boracay. There’s Bohol, for example, which offers a lot of other attractions in addition to its white sand beaches and rich marine life. There’s Samal Island in Davao, more popularly known as home of the world-famous Pearl Farm Resort, but which offers quite a number of more reasonably priced but just as awesome resorts and islands. There’s a whole row of towns in Camarines Sur. And of course, there’s always La Union and Pagudpud up north.

The onset of the summer season in these islands is announced by the sudden appearance of a number of makeshift stalls that sell a variety of goodies associated with the season. When I was younger and when global warming had not yet messed up nature’s calendar in a big way, the onset of summer was made known by the sudden abundance of certain local fruits such as santol, mangoes, and watermelons. The availability of these fruits always coincided with the onset of summer.

When I was growing up in Leyte, summer inevitably meant spending quite a number of hours tending to a makeshift fruit stall along the highway where we sold fruits that we harvested from trees in our farm.

But of all the goodies associated with summer, the most ubiquitous would be the halo-halo. I was driving around the San Andres area in Manila over the weekend and couldn’t help but notice the many makeshift stalls that have sprouted, all selling their own version of what is probably the country’s official summer delicacy. What the lemonade stand is to the United States, the halo-halo stand is to the Philippines.

In some parts, the neighborhood halo-halo stand is really a very simple affair – just a table, some jars of ingredients, and a manual ice shredder. Others are a little fancier such as the one I saw in one street corner over the weekend – a specially designed glass cabinet with wheels and compartments for the various ingredients. I have also noted the availability of plastic glasses complete with stylish covers similar to the ones used by Starbucks for their iced concoctions. Our halo-halo vendors have gone a long way, indeed.

But of the many halo-halo glasses that I have consumed through the years, three automatically come to mind as the most unforgettable.

It is sad that Digman’s halo-halo is no longer available in most of our malls in Metro Manila but there was a time when Digman’s halo-halo was considered the benchmark, the authoritative halo-halo, in town. Digman’s halo-halo offered the tagline “Sang dosenang halo, sangdosenang sarap” (roughly, a dozen ingredients, a dozen delights). The dozen ingredients included two varieties of beans (red beans and garbanzos or chick-pea beans), ube (purple yam), macapuno (sweetened coconut), nata de coco, kaong (palm sugar), langka (jackfruit), corn, sago (tapioca pearls), sweetened bananas, gulaman (gelatin), and pinipig (fragrant rice flakes). I never really got to try the concoction served at its original outlet in Bacoor Cavite, but in the late eighties up to the early nineties, Digman’s could be found in the fastfood areas of most major malls. My friends and I used to have our fix from the basement of Landmark Department Store in Makati. We would eat halo halo with siopao. What made Digman’s halo halo enticing was that the colorful ingredients were often displayed in huge heaping bowls. Sadly, Digman’s halo-halo slowly disappeared from our malls when more global fares invaded our market. I think the closest clone of the Digman halo-halo is the one served by the fastfood chain Chowking.

The other unforgettable halo-halo that I’ve experienced was the one we bought in Arayat Pampanga a couple of years ago. It was called Kabigting’s halo-halo and was unforgettable because of its simplicity – it featured just three ingredients: corn, beans and pastillas. This particular halo-halo was very creamy because it used carabao’s milk. Unfortunately, Kabigting’s halo-halo is not available in Metro Manila so one has to travel all the way to Pampanga to savor it. I am told though that it is now available at the Marquee Mall along the North Expressway.

My favorite, and mainly because it is relatively available all-year round in various stalls around Luzon, is Razon’s halo-halo. Razon’s halo-halo is also remarkable in its simplicity: It only has three ingredients, namely, sweetened banana, macapuno, and leche flan. But what is probably noteworthy is the almost sand-like consistency of the ice that they use.

Global warming may bring a number of changes in our lives but it is always heartwarming to note that certain things never change. Hopefully, halo-halo will always be staple fare in the summer of our lives.

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