Kapampangans might just be the luckiest regional group in the Philippines. Not only are they renowned for their culinary prowess, but they also have a luxury called tibok-tibok. Literally "heartbeat" in the Kapampangan dialect, the word aptly describes the cooking process of this ethereal sweet. Two milks, carabao and coconut, are stirred long and lovingly over a gentle heat along with sugar and maybe the zest of a citrus fruit. Tibok-tibok describes how the cook can tell when this most delicate of coconut milk puddings is done; the bubbles just barely break the surface, reminiscent perhaps of a pulsing heart. Certainly, the heart will flutter with just a bite of tibok-tibok.
One of Manila's talented and more popular artisan ice cream makers, Ian Carandang of Sebastian's Ice Cream, has translated the tibok-tibok into an ice cream. Liters of hand-pressed coconut milk are melded with sugar and the magic of his imagination to produce an ice cream flavor that's both a sensual pleasure in itself and a paean to Filipino flavors. That it's dairy-free and vegan-friendly too can only be a plus. This particular flavor possesses a curse-inducing creaminess mainly due to the duo of milks it's made from. "This is truly a labor of love," Ian explains. "The coconut cream is hand squeezed and it takes liters of milk to make just one gallon."
Ian is a 30-something, modern-day sorbetero. His life's mission is to make better, bigger ice cream for Filipinos. His life's work was spurred on by a seemingly innocent purchase of a pint of Ben & Jerry's at Duty Free Philippines in the early 2000s. Blown away by the names, the flavors, and the sheer sense of fun that the ice cream was imbued with, it continues to serve as his inspiration with fanciful flavors crammed with a belly-busting medley of mix-ins: "Cookie Dough", "Mango Sansrival", "Macadamia White", and "Up All Night" (an aggressive mocha). This is a man having fun with his food — er, ice cream. He's large and loud, a man with verve and a creativity set on fire. He talks animatedly, passionately, with lots of hand movements. When you meet him, it's easy to understand why the concept of "fun" in food is so vital to him.
His tibok-tibok ice cream is Ian endeavoring away from the traditional custard bases into vegan-friendly and dairy-free ice cream, a pushing of the envelope, if you will. "I'm still trying, tweaking," he says. "It's something as yet completely unformed." Creative impulse was discovered in Filipino kakanin desserts, specifically "Tibok-Tibok" and another flavor, "Puto Bumbong." Ian describes the process as "on its own it's like kanin (rice), it's a base. There's not much flavor there so that was the challenge, it was like mixing rice and potatoes." But tinkering and tenacity led him to a technique that allowed him to get the rice to retain its creaminess even when frozen. This discovery has injected inspired creation in Ian, rousing him to expand his repertoire.
Ian is still experimenting but for now, that tibok-tibok ice cream has an incomparably lush texture, its flavor a proclamation of coconut love. Just a spoonful and one is held captive by coconut. Swells of coconut flavor swirl and sway, smoothness wending down the throat. The ice cream is topped with latik, burnished bits of oily residue, the reward for constantly stirring coconut cream in a hot pan. Teeth bump into bits of it, nubbins of smokiness, commas of saltiness that seem to say, "Hold on tight, it only gets better from here."
For more on Tibok-tibok ice cream, visit Sebastian's Fanpage on Facebook.
Sebastian's Ice Cream Store Locations:
Alabang Town Center Mall
(917) 405 7678
4th floor, near escalator
ADB Avenue, Ortigas
(927) 453 7426
The Block, SM North Edsa
3rd floor, near Cinema Ticket booth
(927) 290 1633
3rd floor, center atrium
(915) 232 4253
COLD COMFORT Ice Cream Parlor
SM Mall of Asia
New Entertainment Mall, 2nd Floor
(near IMAX exit)
(915) 489 5753
Lori Baltazar is the whiz behind the popular food blog, Dessert Comes First.