Taho: Filipino Silken Tofu with Sago Pearls and Syrup
Taho is a classic sweet treat in the Philippines made with silken tofu, sago or tapioca pearls, and a simple brown sugar syrup. Served warm, it’s popular as a comforting breakfast or merienda (snack) any time of the day!
Taho is a classic sweet snack in the Philippines made with silken tofu, sago or tapioca pearls, and a simple brown sugar syrup. Served warm, it’s popular as a comforting breakfast or for merienda (snack) any time of the day!
I was six years old when I had my first encounter with Taho. I was on vacation in the Philippines, alone in my grandmother’s bedroom, peering out the window, spying the children my age walking to school. I remember observing their lovely sailor-style uniforms, and thinking to myself how much smarter they looked than my school’s green plaid jumpers. The girls walked in pairs down the street, freshly washed from the morning rain, and I remember my cousin joining me and we decided to play a quick trick.
A boy was walking behind the girls, half a block away. Taking care to duck behind our second-floor windows, we gave a little whistle. We peeked over the ledge, and sure enough, the girls turned around and glared at the boy, poor thing. He was shocked and defenseless!
We did it again.
Oh, that poor boy!
But then we heard a man’s voice. Taho!!!! He cried. He had two metal covered buckets balancing on a wooden pole on his shoulders. I had never seen anything like it! Curious, I perched forward on the windowsill and watched as someone walked up to him with some pesos. The Taho man lowered his buckets to the ground and ladled something white and silky into a cup. From the other bucket, another scoop, this time a dark liquid.
The customer took his cup and sipped it. And even before I tasted Taho, I was mesmerized. I knew I had to try it.
What is Taho?
Taho is a beloved snack in the Philippines, almost like a drinkable custard made with warm silken tofu, sago pearls, and arnibal, a simple brown sugar syrup. Sago pearls are similar to tapioca pearls, and like the boba you find in bubble tea. To the indoctrinated, it sounds like a crazy combination of ingredients, but believe me when I tell you, it is as delicious as I imagined, when I first spied taho from my grandmother’s bedroom window. Served warm, it’s sweet and comforting, the silken tofu much like a custard, with the satisfying chew from sago or tapioca pearls. When I first made homemade taho, I would use warm maple syrup as a quick substitute from the arnibal, and between you and me, that’s a fine way to go about it, too.
Taho can also be found in China, Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam, and I’ve seen different versions in the Asian markets here, stateside. In the Philippines, though, it’s one of the first street foods I fell in love with, and part of it is from the cry of the vendors singing, “Tahoooooo!” in the early morning. But it really is absolutely delicious. It’s a treat popular at breakfast, or for merienda (snack). I personally love eating it warm, but it can also be enjoyed chilled for a cool treat.
Looking for More Merienda?
Looking for more merienda treats? I’m joining my fellow Filipina bloggers for a virtual merienda to celebrate Filipino Amerian History Month!
More Filipino Merienda Snacks from the Archives
Taho: Filipino Silken Tofu with Sago (Tapioca) Pearls and Brown Sugar Syrup
Taho is a classic sweet treat in the Philippines made with silken tofu, sago or tapioca pearls, and a simple brown sugar syrup. Served warm, it's popular as a comforting breakfast or merienda (snack) any time of the day!
- 16 oz silken tofu
- 1 1/4 cups brown sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup tapioca or sago pearls see notes
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the tapioca pearls according to your package instructions. This can be done in advance; just be sure to store the prepped pearls with some water or a little brown sugar syrup (next step).
Combine the brown sugar, water, and vanilla in a small saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stir to dissolve the sugar, and lower heat to a simmer. Continue simmering for about 2-4 minutes and remove from heat. This syrup, or arnibal, can also be made in advance.
Place silken tofu in a parchment lined steamer. Steam for 10-15 minutes, or until heated through. Alternatively, you can microwave the tofu for about 2-5 minutes.
To serve, scoop slices of warm silken tofu into a small cup. Top with tapioca or sago pearls. Pour hot brown sugar syrup (arnibal) on top. Serve immediately, while warm.
Sago pearls are traditionally used in taho, but can be substituted with tapioca pearls which are more readily available. Both can be found at your local Asian market. I personally prefer using quick cooking tapioca pearls which are easier and faster!