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7 Life-Changing Filipino Desserts

Dessert is never just dessert—it brings you to a state of bliss that only your taste buds can take you to. Trust us when we say these seven mouthwatering sweet escapes from the Philippines can change not just your blood sugar levels, but your life as well!

Words: Abby Yao

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Sans Rival truly has no equal (CC-BY) museinthecity

1. Sans Rival

We have no idea why a dessert with a French name (say sans-reeVAL, “without rival”) is in fact a Filipino refrigerator cake. But the buttercream and meringue wafers, layered with tons of nuts, are unparalleled in decadence, not to mention fat content. Variations use pistachios or almonds, in addition to cashew nuts. A mini version called a Silvana lets you indulge with less guilt, so you can say you just had a cookie instead of a cake indulgence.


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Clean fun with dirty ice cream (CC-BY) Abby Yao

2. Dirty Ice Cream

Also known as sorbetes, dirty ice cream is sold by a mamang sorbetero (ice cream man) who rings a bell as he goes from street to street, pushing a distinctive cart often just as colourful as the iconic jeepney. The addition of flour, coconut milk, and traditionally, water buffalo milk, sets this yummy ice cream apart from the mass-produced variety. What makes it dirty? We’ve never had tummy trouble with it, so we’ll leave it up to you to scrutinise mamang sorbetero’s hygiene habits. This homemade frozen delight comes in flavours such as cookies & cream, chocolate, strawberry, purple yam, and our favourite—cheese—served atop a crispy waffle cone.


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Brazo de Mercedes is all about the arms—meringue mixing, anyone?

3. Brazo de Mercedes

How can something be as light as air yet taste so addictively luscious? Literally translated “Mercedes’ Arm”, this light soft meringue cake roll with rich custard filling may contain only a few ingredients and may be easy to prepare, but it is such a hit that major chain bakeshops Red Ribbon and Goldilocks sell it, even all the way in their United States branches!


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“Pili” is also Filipino for “choose”, more reason to choose pili nuts! (CC-BY) Abby Yao

4. Everything Pili Nut

This backyard crop is finger food that you can’t stop eating. Pili grows on Bicol region’s volcanic soil and is commercially cultivated ONLY in the Philippines. Delicately crunchy on the outside with a melt-in-your-mouth centre, pili nuts are heavenly whether roasted with garlic or with honey. They can be made into mazapan de pili (pili marzipan), tarts, pastillas (milk candy) and many other goodies. Don’t worry as it’s also nutritious and contains the eight amino acids. Raw Food World has made pili nuts into a chocolate-free chocolate bar. Now, that’s really nutty!


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Visitors love Vjandep Pastel, too! (CC-BY) George Parrilla

5. Vjandep Pastel

The Vjandep brand name comes from “VJ and EP”, the initials of the bakeshop’s owners, while pastel is Spanish for cake. These delicious bite-sized bread buns with yummy filling are the pride of Camiguin Island and these days, Cagayan de Oro City. Simple but inexplicably divine, just one of these melt-in-your mouth buns is not enough, and that’s why they’re sold by the dozen, and even then, you’d wish you bought more. Its scrumptious flavours include the bestselling yema (custard), cheese, mango, jackfruit and purple yam. 


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You can now enjoy bibingka all year round at stalls inside shopping malls ©Adam Lee

6. Bibingka

Want a taste of Christmas in the Philippines? Bibingka is synonymous with the holiday season, as it is made fresh outside churches during midnight or dawn Masses in December. The traditional terracotta oven is lined with banana leaves and uses live charcoal above and below the cake, giving bibingka a lightly charred appearance. The main event: slices of salted egg and white cheese are baked into the bibingka, giving the sweetness a delectable savoury counterpoint. Topped with sugar, butter or margarine, and grated coconut before serving, it’s humble and exquisite at the same time. Mmm, we smell the holiday spirit!


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How many halo-halo ingredients can you spot? (CC-BY) Abby Yao

7. Halo-Halo

Behold the granddaddy of shaved ice desserts! “Mix-mix” is the ultimate Filipino dessert, featuring over a dozen possible ingredients, including local desserts that are amazing in their own right: leche flan (caramel custard), ube halaya (purple yam dessert) and nata de coco (coconut gelatin). Add macapuno (coconut sport), kaong (sugar palm fruit), sago pearls, corn, mung beans, chickpeas, jelly cubes, jackfruit, sweet potatoes and caramelised plantain. Pile on the shaved ice, swirl with evaporated milk, add a scoop (or two) of vanilla or purple yam ice cream, sprinkle with cheese and pinipig (toasted rice flakes), and voila! A giant bowl of pure happiness that will have you dreaming every time it’s hot and sunny outside.  

Share with us your favourite Filipino desserts in the comments below.

GETTING THERE Fly to Manila from Kuala Lumpur via AirAsia. For flight information and the lowest fares, go to www.airasia.com.

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