Neon cocktails are, of course, inherently ‘grammable, but if those brightly-hued drinks happen to actually taste good, that’s a serious win in our book. Enter the ube yam, a bright purple tuber that’s native to the Philippines and used widely in their cuisine. Lately, it’s been popping up at bars across the country—including spots that don’t even serve Filipino food.
In the Philippines, ube is traditionally served during special occasions like birthdays and holidays, as its pleasantly sweet flavor and bright purple hue make it particularly festive. “For me, ube always signifies a celebration,” says Krizzia Yanga, owner of modern Filipino restaurant Bonifacio in Columbus, OH. “The best holiday desserts are ube flavored. You don’t normally have it around day-to-day, but when there’s a Filipino party, you can be sure that ube will be there.” One of those desserts, Halo Halo—which incorporates a variety of candied fruits, milk, ube and Rice Krispies—was the inspiration behind NYC restaurant Jeepney’s bright, boozy ube milkshake.
“Transforming Halo Halo into a cocktail was simple and signifies what most Filipinos love about ube,” says Philippe Garcesto, bar manager of Jeepney and sister restaurant Maharlika. “It stays true to the dessert’s interesting textures, especially the Rice Krispies garnish, which adds extra crunch.”
Filipino Americans will tell you that their cuisine is wholly underrepresented in most cities and communities. Save for a few mom and pop restaurants and fast food chain Jollibee, there aren’t many places to get a taste of home—and it can be even more difficult to find authentic interpretations of classic dishes. But ube, with its bright purple color and pleasant flavor, might be the breakout ingredient that’s bringing greater awareness to Filipino food as a whole.