By Kaye Mangabat
SAN FERNANDO CITY, LA UNION – As a kid, Xavier Mercado sold halo-halo, setting up a roadside stall during summer. His love for this all-time favorite Filipino dessert continues now that he owns a restaurant wherein he also expresses his passion for Ilocano cuisine.
Halo Halo de IlokoBalay is noted for its halo-halo and is often sought by those visiting San Fernando or those visiting the beaches of nearby San Juan.
Their halo-halo somewhat represents the best of La Union – the ubehalaya comes from San Gabriel while more ingredients like the sagingnasaba and buko is sourced further from the town of Agoo.
Xavier himself owns a small ube farm in Aringay. He won’t reveal much about the “secret” to their delicious halo-halo; he simply says, though, they use carabao milk.
The San Fernando native started his restaurant in 2002. They used to rent a house near the main road until he moved it to its current location at their ancestral home in Zandueta St. (at the back of the plaza).
“My grandmother is a business woman, in her younger years she also sells products, so she became my inspiration in putting up this business,” Xavier says.
You can literally smell the homey ambiance even before you step inside. Antiques and vintage furniture (including what I guessed was an old ice mixer) abound.
Save for the menu, I noticed there were no photos of food on display unlike most restaurants. When I raised this to Xavier, he told me it was intentional because he believes food “should be eaten not displayed”.
“Almost all my furniture and stuff here came from my grandparents because I want to make the place look unique,” he adds.
Also, it would be comforting to know that Xavier himself cooks whatever is served and so is often busy at the kitchen.
“I want to preserve the quality and consistency of the food I serve so I never let anyone in the kitchen cook,” he adds. When he has to go out of the city for business, he is ably substituted in the cooking chores by his wife or mom.
Asked about his restaurant’s beginnings, he told me he initially invested P100, 000, which he was able to recover after just three months.
“When starting a business, never think of how much it will cost you. Enjoy what you’re doing and love what you’re doing,” Xavier says.
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