The Dirty Ice Cream of Manila

One of the curious street foods in the Philippines is something called “dirty ice cream.” It is real homemade creamy ice cream made from local fruits. The traditional word for dirty ice cream is “sorbetes” similar “sorbet.”

The unique ingredient in sorbetes is coconut milk and when sold on the streets, the customer has a choice between putting the ice cream in a bread bun or on a small wafer cone. One scoop is equivalent to 1.5 tablespoon in weight and costs a mere 25 U.S. cents making it extremely affordable for anyone on a hot summer day.

The common flavors of dirty ice are cheese, mango, ube, and chocolate. Its history began during the American occupation of the Philippines where American ice cream made in Philippines used water buffalo’s milk instead of cow’s milk. Water buffalo’s milk was cheaper and easily available. Today new flavors have been introduced because of western influence like cookies and cream, mocha, and strawberry.

Peddlers of dirty ice cream do not have a permanent stand. They walk around the city streets and can also be hired for private parties. Some peddlers have taken to attacking their ice cream carts to a bike making it easier for them to reach farther places and sell more. Most often they are hired for a children’s party and the customer must pay for the entire contents of the cart for the 2 to 3 hour party.

You would wonder how these carts can keep the ice cream from melting especially under the hot tropical sun. The trick of the street vendors is the stuff the carts with shaved ice mixed with salt. This lowers the temperature and keeps the ice cream which is stored in metal canisters cold and frozen.

As to why it is called dirty ice cream – this was a mother’s warning to a child from buying street food that may not be safe to eat. In addition, the vendor usually never wears gloves. The government however has stepped and made sure that the vendors practice good sanitation and hygiene. The buns and wafer cones have to be wrapped in napkins so the vendor does not touch the food with his bare hands. However, in spite of the improvements, the name stuck and retained its name, dirty ice cream.

Foreigners who have tasted the ice cream claim that it is a great afternoon treat and has a different texture. The cheese flavor has tiny bits of cheese while the chocolate is very sweet and mild. As for the children on the street, the tiny tinkling of the bell is like music to their ears as they know the sorbetero is near.

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