The summer sun burned my face. It burned my small nose and my big cheeks. Its heat clung onto the concrete curb and burned my bare feet. I stepped outside hoping for a respite, however fleeting, from the heat that swam around the house. I was a bored kid with nothing to do. No school and no friends. No television. No radio even. The holiest days of the year felt like the hottest and my boredom added fuel to the flame.

Feeling defeated, I sat on the steps by our front door and waited for something to happen. I prayed for rain. I prayed for even just the faintest drizzle. For even just the loneliest drop. I hoped and waited for even just the lightest breeze. But everything around me remained still. The fruitless papaya tree. The thick hibiscus bush. The purple bougainvillea blossoms. Nothing swayed. Not even a tiny quiver.

These thoughts of home and of summers past have left me parched. They have left me craving for chewy sago [sah-goh] spheres and soft gulaman [goo-lah-mahn]. For arnibal [ahr-nee-bahl], the deep amber sugar syrup. For ice shaved into a fine flurry.

It’s overcast outside. Fifty or so. A dip from the warm spring spell of seventies during the past weekend. There’s a good chance of rain on Easter Sunday — the rain I prayed for many, many years ago. It isn’t exactly a sago-and gulaman kind of day but I don’t mind. I don’t mind at all. Nothing — absolutely nothing — can quench my thirst other than an icy glass of sago and gulaman.


Sago and Gulaman Coolers, makes six to eight servings

For sago pearls

1/4 cup dark brown sugar
6 cups water
1/4 cup sago pearls

For gulaman

1 stick agar-agar or Alsa unflavored gulaman
3 cups water
1/4 cup sugar

For arnibal, brown sugar syrup

1 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup water

Put sugar and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Add sago pearls and stir until water returns to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, and continue cooking sago with the lid on, stirring occasionally, until they are almost translucent with a pinpoint of white in the center. Sago is cooked when it is tender but still chewy. Drain, rinse under cold water, and drain again. Set aside.

Small sago pearls take about 20 to 30 minutes to cook while the bigger ones take much longer. In low heat, simmer big pearls with the lid on for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, then turn off the heat and let them continue to cook in the saucepan for about an hour. If they are still not done, bring water to another boil, reduce heat, and simmer with the lid on for another 30 minutes. Repeat the process until they are almost translucent with a pinpoint of white in the center. Cooking sago in a rapid boil for a long time breaks them apart and makes them too soft and too mushy. Sago can be prepared ahead of time. Transfer drained cooked sago pearls to a container, add enough water to cover pearls, cover and refrigerate for up to a few days. Stir well and then drain before using.

To make gulaman, tear agar-agar into smaller pieces. Add water to a saucepan. Add agar-agar and soak in water for half an hour. Bring water to a boil and simmer until agar-agar is fully dissolved. Add sugar and cook for ten minutes. Pour in a flat pan or dish and let it cool until agar-agar sets. Cut into small cubes with a knife. Set aside.

To make arnibal, put sugar, vanilla, and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. One part sugar to one part water. Reduce heat to a simmer and stir a minute or two, until the sugar dissolves. Take off heat, let it completely cool and set aside.

Assemble coolers by mixing sago and gulaman in glasses. Add arnibal, ice-cold water, and crushed ice, and mix everything together.


Sago at Gulaman

Sago at Gulaman

Sago at Gulaman

  • Anonymous

    Oh oh oh!!! I LOVE LOVE LOVE this drink. It drove me nuts thinking about that syrup because I KNEW it was something different/special but no one could ever tell me. Now I know! It was also similar to the syrup they poured over shaved ice at the barrio streets, no? I think some places call them snowballs and sometimes with food colouring.

    You know I dared not make sago’t gulaman because I couldn’t replicate that sugar/vanilla flavour? This summer I definitely will! Thanks, Babs. Yes, you have no idea how happy this makes me.

  • saberkite

    My mom used to make this too, and I was so amazed that it came from such really simple ingredients.

    Holy Week/Easter is memorable too, as we’re usually in Zambales with cousins. Sucks when my birthday falls on Good Friday though. I can’t have fun haha. Cheers Jun!

  • Ray Keziah

    I really enjoy your blog Jun and have read much of it… Would you happen to know the recipe for the white, milky looking one with the red gulaman? I don’t remember the name besides gulaman, but I remember getting it on the streets while cruising the market.

  • Norma Torres

    Such a great post and those drinks are absolutely gorgeous to look at, but i am sure better for taste….

  • Rowi

    Oh, this wonderful post reminds me of hot summer days of my childhood, where even doing nothing was an exertion. Gulaman at sago was always a welcome thirst-quenching treat to break the afternoon lull. I’ll give this a try sometime when it’s spring for real.

  • Anna Cadiz Bennett

    I love your blog especially the images…a total class act…I get hungry every time I visit your blog – keep up the great work!

  • cathy Caballero

    Great post, discovered your site
    while researching for filipino dessert

  • Iya Santos

    Refreshing! Also yum with some coconut milk! :D

  • Stephanie

    Helpful Post! those drinks are absolutely beautiful to look, and I love to taste it.

  • nathalie

    I had these almost every day when I went to Manila to have our baby. Our helper put coconut milk in it – great drink after a hot day, and it was hot every day! :-)

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  • Kaythe

    thanks for sharing how to make the agar agar, I’ve seen these in asian stores but it doesn’t come with instructions on how to make it into gelatin :) these drinks remind me of when we would visit Philippines and the folks that would walk around my grandparents’ neighborhood yelling out “Sagooooo”

  • Patty

    Thank you for the post. What brand of sago do you recommend?

  • Lisa Pimentel Dar Santos

    Your blog was the first thing listed when I googled for “gulaman at sago recipe” last year. I’ve made gulaman and sago before, following the steps on the back of the sago package. My sago always ended up badly. But when I started using your recipe last year, everything seemed to go quite well. Thank you for sharing your yummy recipes, your beautiful photos (makes your food yummier) and your memories. As a fellow displaced Filipino, I share your homesickness for family and the food that elicit wonderful remembrances of time spent with them. I’m glad I found your blog and will definitely be trying out your other recipes, starting with the “itlog na maalat.” Maraming salamat muli!