Blue Ice

Over the decade after its opening the Insular Ice Plant, with its iconic earthquake proof smokestack, operated at a loss. Despite being able to churn out 100 tonnes of ice a day it could only give it to goverment projects, employees and the military because it was forbidden from selling ice to the general public cheaper than private industry, which meant Fabrica de Hielo the only other game in town and a half a centavo a kilo less than the ice plant was required to sell it for.

One is entitled to speculate that profit-savvy sellers of shaved ice confections in the opening decade of the 20th century were buying from Fabrica de Hielo rather than the government ice plant. That may also have limited the spread of halo-halo and similar deserts.

The fact that ice cream and sorbet vendors had to be corralled near the plant during the 1901-1902 typhoid outbreak suggests that they had other sources for the cold stuff.

The Insular Ice Plant and Cold Storage continued to lose business as late as 1908, when it was suggested that the government should purchase Fabrica de Hielo but the idea did not prosper.

It did, however, add a new cry to the streets of Manila, or at least those where American administrators had their homes and government offices: ice was delivered by an insulated wagon, its arrival announced by the driver’s call of “Hielo, hielo!“.

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The Naughty Story of Halo-halo and the Karayuke-san

Traditionally dressed Japanese women in Manila 1920s

Note: This is a very long post because it seemed worth exploring the Japan-Philippines relationship more broadly. On the way through I came across some surprising data that was not generally known, even to some historians.

One instinctively feels that there were hundreds, if not thousands, of Japanese nationals in the Philippines prior to 1900 who might have introduced shaved ice desserts. In fact, one could have fitted the entire Japanese immigrant population in any one 19th century year into a jeepney.

Yes, there were 35 Japanese nationals in the Philippines in 1888, and if you think you can’t get 35 people into a jeepney you have much to learn.

And some years the jeepney would have been empty.

For 250 years of Tokugawa feudalism, Japan isolated itself from the rest of the world. Even as late as the 1870s Tokugawa shoguns were using a matchlock gun, called a tanegushima, based on 16th-century Portuguese weapons. It was last used by Samurai fighting the nine-year-old Meiji administration in the failed Satsuma Rebellion of 1877, the background to the movie The Last Samurai.

Talking of Samurai, we know that at least a half-dozen moved into Philippines in the late 19th century following the Meiji restoration. Their moment in history was over. For now.

The Meiji period started in 1868, and saw a massive modernisation program and at least some outreach to Manila and elsewhere. An international search for knowledge to support the new empire was one of the five charter oaths of the Meiji period.

A French cartoon celebrating Admiral Kamimura after the defeat of the Russian navy

A key objective was to be treated as an equal by Western powers. Winning the Sino-Japanese war of 1894/5 and the impressive, disciplined military performance of the Japanese army when it led the way to relieving the Foreign Legation in Peking, and supplied more ships and men than any other force, in 1900 got the attention of the West and resulted in the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of 1902. That treaty was intended to challenge Russian expansion and led to Japan’s navy handily clobbering its Russian opponent in 1904/5.

One of the participants in those conflicts was to get a name-check in the history of the Philippine Revolution: Kamimura Hikonjo (1849-1916).

Kamimura Hikonjo, Filipinos promoted him to Admiral.

Filipino accounts promoted him to Admiral in stories of a meeting with Andres Bonifacio, but in 1896 when the meeting took place he was a captain and Chief of Staff of the Japanese Readiness Fleet in Yokohama.

Each year two Yokohama-based British-built 3,000 tonne corvettes with complements of up to 308 officers and crew, the Kongo and the Hiei, alternated cadet training cruises and made visits to ports outside Japan, including Turkey, Piraeus in Greece and Honolulu.

IJN Kongo

Some sources claim the Bonifacio meeting was with an Admiral Hirawa but the Imperial Japanese Navy never had an Admiral Hirawa. Similarly, there are sources that claim the Japanese Consul was at the meeting but there was no such consul in Manila until October 1896.

On 11 April 1896, the Kong let-go its lines in Yokohama and set off for a training voyage around the region which would take it to Manila and into Philippine history and, possibly, an abortive attempt by revolutionaries to bring the country under the Japanese sphere of influence.

Continue reading “The Naughty Story of Halo-halo and the Karayuke-san”

Mushi-mushi, Halo-Halo To All That

Clarke’s, the first ice cream in Manila?

Language is a bit of a challenge trying to identify when ice cream and even halo-halo emerged. ‘Sorbetes‘ in Tagalog covers both frozen water/fruit juice confections and ice creams. In Spanish we have helado attached to chilled/iced products like quesos helado, mentioned in an 1875 Manila directory.

Aha, you may think: Cheese ice cream! But there is no cheese in quesos helados. A speciality of Madrid, these are variously coloured water-ice sorbets put into small shaped moulds with milk added. When frozen they look like little cheeses, hence the name.

Helado is also used for ice-cream, sorbete for sorbet, hielo for ice and sorbete de leche specifically for ice cream as well as Mantecado and helado Leche..

Upper-crust menus were often in French. Glace is the French for ice, creme glace is ice cream, and sorbet is sorbet, but, again glace can cover both sorbet and ice cream.

The same applies also in the English term ‘ices’.

A 1911 adverisement for La Campana. Note helados, sorbete and helado, also horchata.

A 1913 instruction to ice cream makers and sellers uses mantecado for ice cream, a term that does not seem to appear in 19th century Philippines.

Then there is garapinera. While often assumed to be an ice cream/sorbet maker even that may be unsafe. Online friend Zeidrick J Cudilla brought my attention to an 1866 Spanish-Visayan dictionary which mentions garapinyera as a box in which beverages are kept, but does not imply ice was used.

In Waray it refers generically to a container for water.


To add to the confusion, garapinera also refers to the insulated container vendors carried their product around in rather than the device it was made with.

You can watch how ice cream was made in Victorian times here:

So, as far as we know, the first unambiguous appearance of ice-cream was in 1902 during a visit by the USS Alert to the Philippines.

Continue reading “Mushi-mushi, Halo-Halo To All That”

Hot Times, Frosty Americans

William Henry Corbusier built the first American ice plant in the Philippines.

Although ice was available in Manila, cold storage was another matter. Posh houses, hotels and so on, could store vegetables, fruit and water in their ice boxes but unless you had a convenient cow in your yard, as the Tafts did, fresh milk was a luxury.

Vendors sold carabao milk which had been brought into Manila by train, kept in a store at ambient temperature overnight then put on the streets as late as 4pm. To say the least, it wasn’t in the best of condition by the time it was purchased, and any bacteria would be thriving well.

With no wholesale cold storage available various chemicals, including formaledhyde would be added.

No wonder canned milk was preferred by those who could afford it.

Americans, including 60,000 soldiers at any one time, demanded beef but it was often so putrid when imported from the US that even those who cooked it would run away and throw-up. Again, chemicals were used resulting in meat of varying degrees of inedibility.

Australia developed the first refrigerated ships and the Americans in the Philippines became the backbone of the Australian beef industry. But there was a need for somewhere cold to store it.

Another ice issue arose from efforts to fight infectious diseases through vaccination throughout the islands. Ice chests could keep vaccines fresh but ice was not available outside Manila, at least in the quantities needed.

Ice could be a matter of life and death.

Enter the all-but-forgotten American Civil War veteran William Henry Corbusier, the pioneer of American ice plants and cold storage in the Philippines.

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End Run

Here we are. The last decade of the 19th century and no confirmed sighting of ice cream nor the equipment to make it with, the garapinyera.

That gap may have much to do with the class structure of the Philippines at the time.

Who cared about the kitchen worker who made the ice cream? Much as no-one thought it important to gather the experiences of the common tao who bore the brunt of the Philippine revolution and the war of independence against the USA.

The comparison is certainly valid: Professional kitchens are as hierarchical as a military unit. A unit of kitchen workers, from dish-washer to Chef is known as a brigade. They do the work but are beneath being noticed in 19th century Manila.

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