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Halo Halo: Manila Gardens vs. Woo Lae Oak (!)


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Halo Halo: Manila Gardens vs. Woo Lae Oak (!)

Jess Nepo | May 10, 2000 05:44 PM

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 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?

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