Our flight from Legazpi City to Manila was at 7.25 a.m. on Black Saturday. Because we have had a nasty of experience of missing our flight and spending extra to get tickets for the next flight (that happened last year and it’s a very long and emotionally exhausting story that cost me over four thousand pesos, so never mind), thereafter, we always made sure we followed the requirement of checking in at least two hours before the departure time. So, we were at the Legazpi City National Airport a little after 5.00 a.m. To our surprise, the airport was closed. As in locked. According to the street sweepers, the employees and the cops (airport security) had not yet arrived.
I don’t know if this only happens during Lent or if it’s the general rule there. But it was bad for us — even the airport canteens were closed. No toilets, no food, no drinks, nowhere to sit comfortably. Three quarters of an hour later, we were so hungry that when a taho vendor passed by, we were all over him. Perhaps it was just sheer hunger but that was the best taho I’ve ever had in my entire life.
Probably derived from the Chinese tofu pudding known as dòuhua, taho is a hot sweet snack sold from aluminum vats by ambulant vendors in the Philippines. These vendors are a familiar sight on the streets, vats suspended from the two ends of a wooden yoke, and calling out in a sing-song tone, “Tahooooo… Tahooooo…”
Inside the vat at the front end of the yoke is the taho, a custard-like soft tofu. The vat at the rear end of the yoke is divided into two sections — one contains the soft and chewy tapioca balls (sago) and the other contains the dark brown syrup made by caramelizing palm sugar.
How the vendor prepares the snack is an art by itself. He starts by scooping the taho with a wide shallow spoon not unlike a spatula. He places the taho in plastic cups that he carries or cups provided by buyers if the taho vendor is selling in a residential neighborhood.
The vendor closes the front vat, shifts to the rear vat and opens it. With the use of a scoop with a long handle, he tops the taho with tapioca balls.
And, finally, he pours a couple of scoops of the liquefied palm sugar over the tapioca balls and taho.
Versions of this tofu pudding snack can be found all over Asia. The toppings and sweetener vary and, depending on the season, may be served hot or cold. See the Wikipedia article on dòuhua for more details.