It is one of the most well known drinks in the Philippines. Probably, it might even be the most recreated drink in the country, as a lot of versions can be found everywhere. All Pinoys are very fond of the cold, sweet taste of "sago't gulaman" and is very much part of the Filipino Culture. No one really knows when this drink was invented, but the sure thing here is when ice became available, people started appreciating it.
No one can really call it a phenomenon. On a hot tropical country where its sunny 70% of the time, anything cold and refreshing other than cold water is a welcome treat, and people would buy it. Make it sweet, fragrant and colorful, its definitely going to be a hit.
Here's a dose of its ingredients and a little something about it.
Sago. Not everyone knows that these chewey balls are called "tapioca pearls" on the first world countries, which is not the entire truth. Sago can be made from any starchy material which includes tapioca (kamoteng kahoy). In the past, our ancestors cut down trees called "sago palm" and process it to get sago flour, which has a wide variety of uses including making sago pearls. Since these trees takes 7-15 years before being harvested, not too many do this anymore.
Nowadays, to get sago, you can buy uncooked pearls or buy already cooked ones in a local market. What's interesting is that the market vendor can offer you basin after basin of multi-colored cooked pearls in food color. You can have almost any color you want. Red, blue, yellow, pink or colorless ones are put on display and sold per cup. It does save you the hassle of cooking because some sago take hours to cook. The downside to it, you can't customize and you're not sure how it was cooked or how sago was made. Be aware that some manufacturers use borax (used in detergents and cosmetics) when making these, so if you want to be sure that you or your family is not eating borax (carcinogenic if a lot has been eaten), its best to be able to read a label of ingredients.
Gulaman. This is the Pinoy version of Jell-O but the difference between the two is huge. Gelatine is made from animals but gulaman is made from seaweeds. Gelatine when cooked, cannot harden at room temperature but gulaman can. Although this is not a round by round section of how gulaman beats gelatine in almost every aspect, common sense dictates that one should make use of what's readily available. It just so happened that the good stuff are accessible to us.
You can find gulaman for sale in 3 forms: bars, powder and cooked. Go to the local palengke and you can find tray after tray of colorful gulaman already cooked for your convenience. All you need to do is mix it when you get home.
Arnibal. No one would find it amusing if you offer someone a glass of cold water flavored with just sugar. But here in the Philippines, you'll get a smile and a big thank you! The soul of sago't gulaman is none other than sugar, so when you gulp the drink, you're basically consuming a glass of water and sugar.
Of course its not as easy as dumping sugar granules on water and mix to dilute. We Filipinos are far more sophisticated. Instead, we cook the sugar with pandan leaves and keep it stashed until ready to mix.
Arnibal traces its history way back. The origin can be seen in the preparation of leche flan when sugar is caramelized to form the delicious top of the dessert. Someone must have caramelized a lot of sugar and just out of curiosity, mixed it with cold water and drank it. Thus the evolution of sago't gulaman began. Of course that might not be the true story and arnibal might even be older than we think.
A recipe and process of making sago't gulaman may be the next logical step to this, but maybe its no longer necessary unless... 6 people will vote for sago't gulaman on the survey "What's your favorite Summer Pampalamig?"