‘Dirty ice-cream’ refers to the product sold by street vendors rather than that bought in a shop and eaten at home or consumed in a cafe or restaurant.
‘Dirty’ in this context, it is widely believed, does not mean unsanitary. A ‘dirty kitchen’ in the Philippines is an area where raw food is prepared for cooking from which it is taken to the ‘clean kitchen’ for cooking and dishing.
In fact the term may have emerged in the first two decades of the 20th century frozen products from vendors were dangerous treats.
We may have Julius Witte to thank for it.
Maybe it is significant that the earliest reference I have found to what today is referred to as ‘dirty ice cream, or at least sorbet flavoured water ice sold by street vendors,, comes in a book written in French by Alfred Marche and published in 1887, when Julius Witte was running his ice plant, the only one so-far known at the time.
Marche describes a typical Manila street morning with milk vendors carrying vases on their heads, sellers of fresh grass and hay for horses, Chinese barbers who also cleaned customer’s ears and trimmed their nose hairs, and sellers crying out “Sorbete! Sorbete!” ”
Jose Rizal also mentions a sorbet vendor in Binondo in Chapter Four of Noli Me Tangere, published in 1887 with the same cry.
“The sorbeteros repeated the same shrill cry, “Sorbeteee!” while the smoky lamps still lighted the identical Chinese stands and those of the old women who sold candy and fruit.“
Together, these suggest that ambulant vendors were a common sight by the end of the 1880s.
At the moment we don’t know the fate of Julius Witte’s ice business. His perfumery and ironworks continued but nothing is heard of the ice plant after the final years of 1880.
Did he sell it on? If so, it may have been acquired by one of two companies – San Miguel or Fabrica de Hielo. Whatever was the case, the De Witte plant vanishes as the Philippines enters a new era.