Sorbetes is the traditional Filipino variation of ice cream. Also called "dirty ice cream," it is usually sold or peddled by street hawkers using colorful metal carts. It is usually served in small wafer or sugar cones and bread buns or "monay." It is uniquely made from either coconut milk or ordinary milk. Sorbetes is different from the similarly named sorbet, which is made from sugar-sweetened water with flavoring.
Ice cream was introduced in the Philippines during the American Occupation, when refrigerators and other cooling devices were first made available in the country. While American ice cream was made with cow's milk, using the milk of the carabao resulted in a cheaper product which became known as "sorbetes". Both kinds of milk are widely used today. Coconut milk and cassava flour are two other ingredients used that make sorbetes distinct from ice cream made in other countries. Flavors also vary from the usual natural fruits and plants such as mango, ube, avocado, melon, jackfruit, coconut and strawberry to flavors imitating commercial ice cream such as chocolate, cookies and cream, cheese, mocha, etc.
The sorbetes industry competes with commercially available ice cream from giant companies operating in the Philippines such as Arce Dairy, Esmerald, Darchelle, Magnolia, Nestlé, and Selecta, which also started peddling their products in the streets in more sanitized carts.
Sorbetes is peddled by sorbeteros using colorfully painted wooden carts which usually can accommodate three flavors, each in a large metal canister. Peddlers get their carts from makers scattered around the cities of the Philippines in the morning and walk the streets the whole day, calling consumers from their houses by ringing a small handheld bell.
The wooden cart has two large wooden wheels at the front to easily push the cart, though the latest carts are attached to bicycles.
The cart is stuffed with shaved ice sprinkled with salt to produce a lower temperature around the metal canisters and keep the sorbetes frozen longer.
The whole sorbetes cart is also available for private gatherings when negotiated with the sorbetero. It is usually cheaper than buying gallons of ice cream to be served to guests.
Peddlers of sorbetes provide several serving options. It may be served in a small plastic cup, a wafer cone, a sugar cone or a bread bun, at varying prices. A serving can include one flavor or, for no extra charge, a mixture of available flavors.
Sorbetes is usually consumed as a snack while travelling. It can also be served as dessert.