The term “buko pandan” can mean either of two things. The first is buko pandan dessert with coconut meat and cubes of pandan-flavored pudding (made with gelatin or agar-agar) mixed with cream and sweetened condensed milk. The second is an iced drink made with coconut juice, shredded coconut meat and cubes of pandan-flavored jelly.
The buko pandan drink is essentially a street food sold almost everywhere in the country along with other ice-cold drinks like sago (tapioca or pearl balls with iced water sweetened with melted panocha or palm sugar), gulaman (a similar panocha-sweetened iced drink but with cubes of agar-agar in lieu of tapioca balls) or gulaman at sago, a panocha-sweetened drink with a combination of tapioca balls and agar-agar cubes.
Street vendors selling these native iced drinks are a common sight in the Philippines all year ’round but especially during the hot and humid summer months. The already mixed drinks are contained in plastic vats and, when a customer places an order, the vendor uses a ladle with a very long handle to first stir and then scoop the drink into a cup.
The photo above, taken during a family trip to Vigan last year, shows how vendors get creative by serving drinks in attractive colors and varieties.
While there is nothing even closely comparable to the experience of drinking coconut juice straight from the husk, if I have to choose a favorite among the native mixed iced drinks, I’d choose the buko pandan. It’s something that is very easy to prepare at home.
- Dissolve the gelatin powder in 400 ml. of water. Set on the stove and heat to simmering. Pour into a shallow baking dish and leave to set.
- Cut the coconut meat into think strips.
- When the gelatin has set, cut into cubes.
- Place the gelatin and coconut meat in a large container, pour in the coconut water, add ice and stir. Taste and add much pandan-infused simple syrup as you like.
- Ladle into glasses and serve.
Unsweetened and unflavored green gelatin may also be used. If you don’t add sugar to the gelatin, you may need to add more pandan-infused simple syrup to the mixed drink.
It is quite okay to use clear instead of green gelatin or agar-agar. The green color is just for visual appeal and doesn’t really add to the flavor.
If making infused simple syrup is not up your alley, you can substitute sugar plus a few drops of pandan flavoring (McCormick’s has it).