The Ice Cream Story

Eating is a part of our day-today routine. Many people do not realize that much of what we eat today is greatly influenced by our history. Food has not been given much historical importance – for most people see history as a subject just intended to venerate heroes; a subject that requires students to memorize details of the past. History is more than just facts and dates. It makes you think critically and look at past and current issues analytically, giving prior attention to its spatio-temporal context. It is all-encompassing – that even the most unlikely area of discussion in history could be a subject of study. Just like ice cream.

To M. A. Clarke belongs the credit of having introduced the ice cream to the Philippines. According to the American Chamber of Commerce Journal, it was on August 17, 1899 when ice cream debuted in the country. Upon opening his business on Place Moraga, he made that American delicacy part of his menu, and waited for American soldiers and friends to come in. Ice cream was a food that only the elite could afford to eat, for ice and ice cream was too expensive to buy since ice industry in the Philippines was still at a very ripe age at that time.

In the 1920’s, although the entry of refrigerators in the Philippines made the preparation of ice cream possible in a Filipino home, it was still only the elite who were able to prepare ice cream intheir respective kitchens. This was because purchasing such equipment like refrigerators was considered a luxury during this time. This phenomenon made ice cream a status symbol – if a hostess could serve ice cream to her visitor, it meant that she was part of the higher bracket of the society for she could afford to purchase equipment that could make ice cream.

What was famous among the masses at this period was what the local population termed “mais con hielo,” “mongo con hielo,” and later, the “halo-halo.” These were popular delicacies that could induce the same pleasure from eating ice cream at a non-aristocratic price. But the trend of “elitism” in ice cream was to change several years later. Americans introduced what we now know as “sorbetes”, in an effort to extend the culture of eating ice cream to the masses. The “sorbetes” made a steady progress, first starting as a luxury in the mansion of the rich, descending to the middle class, until eventually the poorer citizens of the country indigenized and popularized it.1

At the rise of ice cream as a popular food, several ice cream parlors became evident along every principal street and park. It was a flourishing household industry and it would have continued a profitable one for individual entrepreneurs, had not big business decided it wanted a share of the profits. Centralization of profit from ice cream vending was not developed until William J. Schober arrived in the Philippines in 1899 as a cook in the volunteer army and introduced the famous “magnolia pie”, “magnolia ice-cream” and “ice-drop” which took the Philippines by storm. He sold out his interests to San Miguel Brewery Company, which made San Miguel the sole distributor of Magnolia dairy products in 1925. The San Miguel Brewery Company was the first private business enterprise to exploit the demand for tonsil coolers on a large scale. They introduced the ice cream booth, not an innovation but rather an improvement on the older “agua helada” or lemonade stands. Magnolia dairy products were peddled on the streets in small push carts. When this large scale commercialization of ice cream took place, only a few of the old time independent “sorbeteros” still clung to the business. Commercialization of ice cream and other American delicacies like pie and ice drops also became instrumental in extending the culture of eating such delicacy to a larger mass of the country.2

Popularization of American food such as the ice cream (which were new for the 20th century- Filipinos) tried to manifest their intentions of imparting their culture to the colonized population.
Since food embodies a lifestyle, by subscribing to what the colonizers introduced at that time, the lifestyle of many Filipinos was gradually influenced and changed by the Americans. Nonetheless, no matter what their intention was, we surely benefited from the flavors and delightful experience it served our taste buds.

Article by: Fernan Talamayan

1 M. San Martin, “’Sorbete-e-e!’ The Rise of The Ice And Ice Cream Industry In the Philippines,”Graphic, 4 May 1929, 6.
2. Ibid.