Looking Back

A history of ‘dirty ice cream’

SOMEONE STUMPED me last week by asking for the Filipino term for “dirty kitchen.” I replied that there is no Filipino word for something that is as tricky as “dirty ice cream.” I should ask Filipino architects when they started designing houses with two kitchens—one “clean” and the other “dirty.”

From what I remember from my childhood, the “dirty kitchen” was where actual cooking was done, where the fish was cleaned, and the chicken or pig slaughtered and dressed for specific dishes. When the food was cooked, it was brought to the “clean kitchen” near the dining room to be set in serving dishes or plated before being served. In modern homes there is only one kitchen that fulfills both functions, and sometimes people dine in the kitchen, using the formal dining room for parties. We live in smaller spaces these days and need to be practical, so the “dirty kitchen” and formal comedor are now almost extinct.


A history of food is fascinating, not so much because of the scents, colors and flavors as because of the way in which food shapes people and how people shape the food they eat. What I find fascinating is the relationship between household appliances and the emancipation of women. In the past, women spent their days doing household chores like cooking, washing and ironing, and tending to the children. Even if they were blessed with help who did the chores, they still had to manage the household. Imagine the time saved by instant sinigang mix that comes in sachets or bouillon cubes. (In the past, the sampaloc had to be harvested from a tree, boiled, mashed and then strained just to make sinigang stock.) The time saved by the washing machine, rice cooker and microwave oven has given women more time for other pursuits.

My column last Wednesday on the introduction of ice in the Philippines drew a welcome note from Dr. Benito Legarda, who referred me to a section in his book “After the Galleons” (Ateneo Press, 1999) that refers to travails connected with the importation of ice. In May 1846, a certain Charles Mugford, who signed himself as “Carlos” in Spanish Manila, petitioned the government for tax-free importation of ice from the United States and a waiver of customs duties for imported materials to be used in building an ice house or cold storage house in Manila for the benefit of the public. Then as now, the government reacted slowly and cautiously on anything new, so his petition was not acted on.


The next year, in April 1847, Russell & Sturgis requested duty-free importation of 250 tons of ice from the United States that were to arrive on the frigate Hizaine. Ice was then an unknown commodity in the Philippines, so the one-time free import of the ice was allowed to test the market so it could be determined how much to tax it later on. A Royal Order of October 1848 made the importation of ice tax-free. By 1875 Russell & Sturgis had an ice plant close to its offices on Calle Barraca, Binondo. But it went bankrupt in 1881, and was acquired by Julio Witte.

Dr. Legarda added: “As for making ice cream at home, I recall as a boy seeing the process at the family’s old home on R. Hidalgo St. A contraption called a garapiñera was used, consisting of an ice-filled wooden bucket with a metal cylinder in the middle containing the liquid ice cream mix. The cover of the cylinder had a bevel gear connected to a crank which was turned by hand until the ice cream had attained the desired consistency. I was too young to know if ammonia was added to the ice.”

Gilda Cordero-Fernando also called and referred me to her essay in the pioneering book “Culinary Culture of the Philippines” (Bancom, 1976), where she describes the garapiñera as: “a bucket freezer with a crank, which the whole family was drafted to turn. The father filled the wooden bucket with ice from a block which he first placed in a sack and cracked with a hammer. Coarse salt was then sprinkled on the ice to hasten its freezing. The ice cream took almost an hour of churning to make; and to the dismay of the impatient children, it had to sit and chill some more before being declared fully done.”

Ice cream flavors of the past— mantecado, ube queso helado (not cheese but iced cheese), pinipig, nangka, etc.—live on in our time peddled in the streets by the sorbetero who scoops the stuff into cones or bread buns from wooden pushcarts painted in wild colors like a jeepney. We all know this as “dirty ice cream,” to differentiate it from store-bought (“clean”) ice cream, yet we continue to buy and eat it without fear.

Old-fashioned ice cream was made from carabao milk, eggs, fresh nangka or ube , and was difficult to make. Today we can easily buy supermarket ice cream from brand leaders Haagen Dazs, Magnolia or Selecta, to the artisanal ice cream from Arce Dairy and Carmen’s Best, which provide traditional as well as new and wonderful flavors.

We have come a long way from the “dirty ice cream” served in the great Malolos banquet of September 1898, when the First Republic ratified the June 12, 1898, declaration of independence. A history of ice cream in the Philippines is not just a catalogue of taste but also an alternative way of looking at how Filipinos have changed to become the nation we want to be.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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