Sorbetes is the traditional variation of ice cream made in the Philippines. Often pejoratively called "dirty ice cream", it is distinct from the similarly named sorbet. Peddled by street hawkers, it is usually served in small wafer or sugar cones and more recently, bread buns. It is uniquely made from either coconut milk or ordinary milk.
Ice cream was introduced in the Philippines during the American Occupation when refrigerators and other cooling devices were introduced. While American ice cream was made with cow's milk, using the milk of the carabao, a kind of water buffalo, 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 varied from the usual natural fruits such as mango, avocado, melon, jackfruit, coconut and strawberry to flavors imitating commercial ice cream such as chocolate, cookies and cream, cheese, mocha, ube, 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 product 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 part to easily push the cart though latest carts are already attached to bicycles.
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.