AS A CHILD, Bit House Collective head bartender Natasha Mesa remembers her grandmother taking her out for halo-halo, a dessert enormously popular in the Philippines. “It was turning my favorite nostalgic experiences, our food experiences, into a memorable drink concoction.”
It’s a memorable dessert whether you’ve tried it just once or a hundred times. Halo-halo means “mix-mix” in Tagalog, and it’s an apt name — besides the foundation of shaved ice, ube, and sweetened milk, the dessert can contain myriad ingredients, including white bean, coconut flakes, sweetened banana, jackfruit, tapioca, cornflakes, sugar syrup, mango, palm fruit, gelatin, sago, flan, ice cream, and more. The look and taste are unmistakable, regardless: a texture that hits all three C’s (crispy, crunchy, and creamy). It’s cool and sweet, and has a rainbow of colors with a bright purple scoop of ice cream at its center.
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It’s cool and sweet, and has a rainbow of colors with a bright purple scoop of ice cream at its center.
Mesa’s grown-up version of halo-halo trades banana slices for banana liqueur. Homemade ube foam and taro and coconut turn the cocktail a pastel purple, while sesame seeds, tapioca balls, and coconut jelly create the dessert’s texture trifecta.
Though halo-halo is a Filipino dessert, you can find fruit-filled shaved ice desserts in Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, and Hawaii. “I'm part Hawaiian, so I grew up with all these flavors, not necessarily from a Filipino standpoint, but from being a Pacific Islander. And so it's really fun when I could use not only my experience of halo-halo as a kid, but also bring in the [other] flavors I grew up with.”
Mesa is a co-founder of Bit House Collective in Portland, Oregon, which, along with the cocktail bar, includes a taproom from Portland’s Pono Brewing and a restaurant that hosts a rotating chef’s residency. She originally devised the Halo-halo for Filipino restaurant Magna Kantina’s chef residency. The collective will host other chefs every 3–5 months, which means Mesa will be coming up with new cocktails to complement their menus.
Designing a new cocktail menu several times a year is a daunting task, but Mesa has an arsenal of technology to aid her work. Her on-site research lab includes a centrifuge, dehydrators, and a tool that uses ultrasonic waves to fuse a cocktail’s flavors together. But while Mesa is clearly interested in exploring mixology’s cutting edge, she’s careful not to get too serious. “We have a full drop shot menu. Who doesn’t like a good drop shot? [a shot glass of something dropped into a larger drink, then chugged].” Mesa’s mix of experimentation and silliness is all in keeping with Bit House’s emphasis on inclusivity. She’s interested in making drinks “you might have had when you were 21,” creating an experience that’s “elevated, [but] at an approachable distance for folks that maybe aren't too adventurous yet.”
- 1 oz of Bombay dry gin
- ¼ oz of Amontillado sherry
- ¼ oz of Combier banana liqueur
- 1 ½ oz of taro coconut*
- Dollop of Ube foam*
- *To prepare the taro coconut, whisk together 4 ½ oz of taro powder with 1 cup of coconut water. Add 4 cups of coconut milk and whisk again.
- *To prepare the ube foam, blend 4 ¼ cups of coconut milk in blender with a pinch of salt, ½ oz of ube concentrate, and 1 oz of simple syrup (1:1 sugar and water).
- Combine ingredients in a highball glass. Top with ube foam. Garnish with black sesame seed, tapioca, coconut jellies, and pandan.
Jessica Suarez Writer
Jessica Suarez is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York.
Grant Cornett Photographer
Grant Cornett is a photographer and director based in upstate New York. He likes to take pictures of pristine detritus and austere moments.