Guinataan means cooked with gata or coconut cream (or milk); halo-halo literally means mix-mix. Guinataang halo-halo is a sweet snack or dessert made with chunks of saba bananas, kamote (sweet potatoes) and gabi (taro), strips of langka (jackfruit), sago (tapioca balls) and bilo-bilo (sticky rice balls) cooked in sweetened coconut milk.
This is a treat that my lola (grandmother) used to cook on weekends. When my brother and I craved for it during weekdays, she would buy some during her bi-weekly trip to the wet market. My lola would cook guinataang halo-halo in a huge pan on the outdoor gas stove. The cut bananas, kamote, gabi and langka (jackfruit) would be placed in basins until they were ready for boiling. And there would be mounds and mounds of grated coconut out of which the cream would be squeezed. That was a long time ago. In my mind, I sometimes relive the excitement of those weekend cookouts.
It was also my lola who introduced my own kids to guinataang halo-halo, the beginning of their appreciation for any dish with coconut cream or milk.
So, does guinataang halo-halo have to have everything? Saba bananas, sweet potatoes, taro, jackfruit, tapioca balls, rice balls… Hell, no. Include what you enjoy, exclude what you do not. Cooking guintaang halo-halo is about enjoying the sweet snack rather than aiming for “authenticity” (whatever that means) and not be able to eat half of what’s in it. It’s not a contest about how many ingredients you can throw into the pot either.
Now, about anise (aniseed). Traditionally, anise is added to guinataang halo-halo to add depth of flavor. The aromatic spice balances the rather monotonous sweetness of the dish. You can add anise, if you like. For the amount of ingredients given below, a generous pinch should be enough.
- Place the glutinous rice flour in a bowl. Add 1/4 cup water and mix until it forms into a dough. If the dough is crumbly, wet your hands and mix again. Repeat until the dough no longer falls apart. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes.
- Pinch off small pieces of dough and roll into one-inch balls. You should have about 8 to 10 rice balls.
- Peel the saba bananas and kamote, and cut into one-inch cubes.
- Place the sugar and salt in shallow cooking pan.
- (Salt? Yes, salt. For balance to prevent the sweetness from becoming cloying -- nakaka-umay, in Filipino. Same way that salt is added to cake batter or cookie dough.)
- Add 3/4 cup water. Cook until the sugar and salt are dissolved.
- Add the kamote cubes first. Turn the heat to low. Simmer the kamote cubes for five minutes.
- Add the banana cubes and rice balls. Stir. Simmer for another 10 minutes.
- Stir in the coconut cream. Cook just until bubbly.
- Serve the guinataang halo-halo warm.