By: Bianca Garcia
I started very young. My love for all things ube began with the luscious ube halaya (ube jam) that my great aunt Lola Conch would make at home. I would wait impatiently for hours as she prepped and cooked then simmered, stirred, and stirred some more. As soon as the jam was ready, still hot from the oven, and oozing with bright yellow mantequilla (butter), I happily lapped it up, savoring each thick, sweet spoonful.
So what is ube you ask? It’s not a purple sweet potato, it’s not taro. Ube is purple yam. It's vivid in color, mild in taste, almost nutty. It’s one of the most popular dessert ingredients in the Philippines, and certainly one of the most recognizable (and craveable) ice cream flavors.
When I was a little girl attending private school in Manila, I looked forward to lunch because I knew I would have a slice of ube cake for dessert. It was one of the more popular cakes at the cafeteria and would often sell out, so I had to be resourceful. During recess, when everyone was busy playing and not thinking about food, I would go to the cake counter and pay the cake lady in advance. I was reserving my ube cake so I could get it later during lunch. By the time I was in fourth grade, I would also reserve a slice for my after-school snack.
When I moved to Boston 13 years ago, I would smuggle in jars of ube jam in my suitcase every time I went back to visit the Philippines. Most of the time I would consume it within days, always hungry for the Pinoy food I left at home, and comforted by my sweet favorite. One year I was so busy that I didn’t get to eat my stash immediately. By the time I cracked open the jar, it had mold in it. I cried more tears than necessary.
When I go to a Filipino restaurant and they have halo-halo on the menu (like JnJ Turo Turo in Quincy, MA, or Jeepney and Pig & Khao in NYC), I always inquire if it comes with ube ice cream. If it does, then I order it immediately, even before my eating companions or I have decided on appetizers or drinks. It doesn’t matter if we’re already ordering a feast (which we usually do), I will always have room for ube later.
When I encounter ube ice cream on an artisan ice cream shop’s menu, you bet I’m getting at least one scoop. I was in Los Angeles a couple of months ago (the cradle of the Filipino Food Movement, but that’s for another blog post) and my husband and I took a 25-minute Uber ride to Wanderlust creamery, so I could have a double scoop of their ube ice cream on an ube cone. When we got there, I whipped out my ube-colored wallet quickly and tripped on my words as I excitedly placed my order. Their ube ice cream was ultra creamy, like white chocolate with a mild nuttiness, and crunchy pockets of malted milk balls. It’s one of the best ice creams I’ve had in years.
I know that ube is the new darling of the dessert world, that it’s the latest beautiful food that people can’t stop instagramming, and I welcome all of that. Nowadays, I am a proud member and supporter of the Filipino Food Movement - aiming to raise awareness and to educate people about the delicious food of my motherland. I try different Filipino restaurants all over the nation, proudly share articles about how sisig is going to win the hearts and minds of the world, and get giddy when I see a vibrant splash of purple in food pictures. Sometimes I’m disappointed to find out that the bright purple is actually blueberry or lavender, but most of the time, it’s ube. The cake of my youth, the jam in my luggage, the ice cream of my dreams.
Now excuse me while I search for ube cheesecake.
You can learn even more about the author and BOSFilipinos co-founder, Bianca Garcia, by checking out her profile on the About Us page!