Filipino Student Association brings a taste of home to campus

Halo-Halo for the Homesick

Campus Culture: Filipino sweet treats create community on campus.
Published: December 5, 2022

Growing up near New York City’s Little Manila meant that Toni Sarmiento always had easy access to Filipino food. As a kid, she would take the subway a few stops down to Ihawan and order her favorite dessert.

“I remember the first thing I would get is halo-halo,” Sarmiento said.

When she came to Syracuse University to study architecture, she longed for the vibrant Filipino community she grew up around.

“I’ve been at the university for four years, and I’ve barely met anyone Filipino,” she said.

When she heard that SU’s Filipino Student Association was hosting a “Halo-Haloween,” she was drawn to the event to meet other Filipino students and eat a delicious dessert. While watching anime and learning about Filipino folklore, FSA celebrated Filipino food, culture and community, creating a space for new students to find a home away from home.

Halo-Halo is a traditional Filipino dessert that, when translated from Tagalog, means “mix-mix.” It is a sweet, icy treat made of shaved ice, condensed milk, red beans and various other toppings like gelatin, ice cream, and chickpeas. In Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown,” Bourdain calls the dessert “oddly beautiful” after trying it from the Filipino fast-food chain Jolibee.

Due to the tropical heat of the Philippines, halo-halo is a popular refreshing dish. Topped with ube ice cream, the treat has become a staple of Filipino-American communities in the U.S.


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For many students, this was their first meeting with the organization. MND freshman Caitlyn Begosa found it comforting to be around other Filipino people.

“It’s nice hearing the accent,” Begosa said. “It reminds me of when I would hear my grandma talk to me or whenever I’d be around a bunch of family.”

Events like these allow students to connect with their own background or even other cultural backgrounds while they’re in college. The addition of food gives students the motivation to come, even if they don’t have anyone to go to the event with.

Halo-Haloween was freshman Nick D’Agostino’s first FSA event, and as a freshman, he saw it as an opportunity to meet new people. Along with being a tasty treat, D’Agostino had a special connection with the halo-halo.

“I remember first having it when I went to the Philippines for the first time back in 2016,” he said. “I remember trying it from an uncle I never even knew about.”

Sarmiento knows how important sharing food is for the Filipino community. For her architecture project, she’s designing a space where urban and underdeveloped areas can come together through food.

“One thing we should do is create a market, because everything is food-based,” she said. “At every party, there’s that big table with every single family member around it.”

Like the tables they shared while eating halo-halo at the event, sharing food has a huge impact on creating community on campus.

“It’s a way to remind people of home and what they would do with their family,” Begosa said. “It’s just a nice reminder, like a home away from home.”

Halo-Halo Recipe

Ingredients (Two servings):

  • 1 cup shaved ice
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1/2 young shredded coconut, fresh or bottled
  • 1/4 cup sweet corn or chickpeas
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup firm gelatin set into gel and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 ripe mango
  • 1/2 cup ripe jackfruit
  • 1/2 cup cooked sweet yams (optional)
  • 2 scoops ube ice cream
  • 1/4 cup cornflakes (optional)


  1. Peel mango and slice into 1/2 inch cubes.
  2. Divide each ingredient into 2 equal parts. Get 2 tall glasses, and place each ingredient in layers, leaving the shaved ice, evaporated milk, and ice cream for the top.
  3. Add 1/2 cup of shaved ice to each glass.
  4. Pour 1/2 cup of evaporated milk over the shaved ice.
  5. Add a scoop of ice cream on top and top with cornflakes.
  6. Feel free to add different toppings and ingredients to your liking. Enjoy!

Adapted from