They always say never play with your food, but I beg to differ because what they also say is food tastes better when you use your hands. In the Philippines, they have something called kamayan. “Kamay” means hands in Tagalog, so kamayan roughly translates as “eating with hands”. However, some also know this style of eating as a “boodle fight” (sometimes spelled “budol”) though this concept is a bit different. From what I gather, a boodle fight is where you literally fight to eat as much food as you can before it runs out (or perhaps a fight to stop yourself from eating so much…the struggle is real). Ironically, this term is apparently derived from the military but the feast is a form of camaraderie as opposed to just a battle.
The concept of a kamayan style meal is pretty simple. Tables are lined with sheets of banana leaves and various types of dishes are spread across on top for everyone to share. An authentic kamayan meal traditionally has lots of seafood and rice, which is no shock seeing as the Philippines is a country that loves rice and is surrounded by water (read: seafood :)). The restaurant offered the following set menu:
- Inihaw skewer BBQ pork: Inihaw means grilled. The pork we ate had a sweet marinade that was full of smokey flavours. This was absolutely delicious and probably one of my favourites on the table.
- Inihaw na liempo with atchara: This dish is grilled pork belly (liempo). It was accompanied with pickled papaya (atchara), which is meant to cleanse your palate and was quite refreshing to eat. It also came with cane vinegar, which is used to cut out the oiliness/greasiness.
- Longanisa: They originally had mussels on the menu, but I asked to swap for these delicious little sausages because I love them so much. We couldn’t do a Filipino meal without longanisa!
- Grilled shrimp: Naturally sweet and succulent crustaceans with shell and all!
- Grilled squid: Although we are typically more familiar with larger sized calamari in the western world, Filipinos like to eat the smaller kind. It was a bit strange for us non-Filipinos because the insides weren’t cleaned out, so there was a gooey substance that popped out. However, I was told that this is the typical way of preparing squid in the Philippines.
- Grilled tilapia: This fish was cooked in a banana leaf, so it came out very moist.
- Grilled bangus: This is also known as milk fish and it is the national fish of the Philippines. The version we had was topped with tomatoes and onions. Just be careful because it tends to have a lot of bones.
- Okra: Usually the sliminess of okra is a turnoff for many, but these were cooked perfectly – plain and simple.
- Talong: This is eggplant in Tagalog. It was grilled, which made it super mushy and stringy. It was a bit strange for me to eat it plain like that and it was also slimy.
- Lumpia: You can’t go wrong with these rolls. They are pork egg rolls that were deep fried into a crispy, golden-brown and stuffed with veggies. Yum!
- A fruit mixture of mango and tomato cubes: Who doesn’t like something fresh to go along with their meal? The mangoes and tomatoes were a welcome addition to the meal.
- Steamed rice: No Filipino meal is complete without some plain white rice to accompany it!
- Bagoong: This is a shrimp paste condiment. I was blown away by the strong, salty flavours and amazed at how it made everything it touched super tasty. It definitely kicks your plain rice up several notches and it can be easily found in the Asian section of a grocery store.
I remember having a Filipino classmate back in high school that taught me a few phrases of Tagalog and the only one that stuck with me was this: “busog na ako”, which translates as “I am full”. All I can say was after this kamayan feast, busog na ako!!! I really enjoyed the experience. It was unique and different from your typical fine dining restaurant outing. Based on some of my Filipino friends, they said the table should have been overflowing with food to the point where you basically don’t see the table. However, being in a western country the restaurant owner informed me that they spaced out the meal like this for “sanitary” purposes since we use our hands to eat as opposed to the traditional Filipino way of kutsara’t tinidor (fork and spoon). I personally think it’s an economical decision as well because there would be a lot of leftovers and it would be ridiculously costly and wasteful for a restaurant to fill a table to the brim. However, preparing a feast like this at home with friends and family might be another story.
As a side note, to the shock of the restaurant staff we were a big diverse group. They cooked the meal believing that they were catering to a homogeneous group of Filipinos, so it was a more authentic experience. I’m glad because I would rather have that than some westernized version.
Although I know many cultures use banana leaves as platters for their food, I only recently found out about something called sadhya. I guess I’ll have to try and find a place that does this now. 🙂