By: Lou Maningas Cabalona
In our November issue, I relished in my accidental and planned encounters with boodle fights and how I have come to love what I would claim as Filipinos’ contribution to family style dining.
Nowadays, it is more popularly known among Filipino Americans as a “Kamayan Feast” and I can see why. Simply put, it is dining sumptuously using hands. Dali! Where are the wet wipes?
I love it so much I am encouraging everyone to try to make their own at home whether it is for a regular Sunday lunch or this year’s theme for Noche Buena, our traditional Christmas Eve family dinner.
But how do you put together a fantastic Filipino-style Kamayan feast, you ask?
No fear, I can show you how you can get your hands dirty! Pun intended.
Here’s some important things to remember and creative ideas to make your very own Kamayan feast the topic of conversation many parties after.
1 THE ESSENTIALS
The most iconic representation of a boodle fight is to lay food on top of a long spread of banana leaves. It should be enough to showcase a beautiful banquet of your favorite dishes as well as reserve enough space around it for folks partaking of the feast to claim as their eating space. The most popular and convenient set up is to have it atop the dining table that is wrapped completely with aluminum foil or plastic wrap for easy clean up. You can opt to have chairs enough for guests surrounding the table or in true boodle fight fashion, have them eat standing (if your guests are ok and are medically able to)
Guests should be game to eat “kamayan” style. As a sanitary precaution, encourage your guests to wash their hands thoroughly first. They will want to wipe their hands clean occasionally while eating so make sure there are hand towels nearby. You can leave a roll of paper towels within reach or, if celebrating a special occasion, you can get folded paper towels matching your party’s theme color like red and gold for Christmas!
If you like cloth towels, you can purchase disposable cotton hot towels, at least 1 for every guest, for an elegant dining feel. But I would not recommend using your treasured table napkins unless you are ok with them potentially having permanent food stains. My favorite one is the Kleenex hand towel that comes in a nice dispenser box like tissues but is strong enough for hand drying. It’s a good mix of practicality and elegance!
We encourage everyone to get in the fun of literally digging into the food but should guests have some reason they can’t, make sure you have alternatives such as food grade gloves and/or dinnerware. I find that using eco-friendly wooden, bamboo or palm leaf plates and cutleries are the most fitting complements. They are lightweight and disposable and it does not look as awkward as china and silverware on top of banana leaves.
2 DECIDE YOUR FOOD THEME
Kamayan feasts traditionally consists of grilled or fried meats and seafood, blanched vegetables and tropical fruits but you can also highlight other Filipino dishes you like. As a matter of fact, you can even do a kamayan feast with any other cuisine!
Here are some fun themes you can consider:
Filipino Breakfast Kamayan – Our family had a Filipino breakfast themed Noche Buena one year and it was a huge success! You can have guests come in their pajamas and bring out pillows for a relaxed and super fun atmosphere. This is perfect for Kamayan as most of the breakfast favorites are also mostly fried or grilled such as Beef Tapa, Longganisa, Tocino and Boneless Bangus. Substitute garlic rice for white rice and you can toss in some pandesal to make little sandwiches for alternate carbs. You can also serve Spanish Bread, a Filipino sweet pastry to double as dessert. Oh, And don’t forget the fried eggs. Perfect Pair Drink: Hot Tsokolate (Cocoa)
Coco Loco Kamayan – Coconuts are in abundance in the Philippines and its fruits are used in a wide array of dishes in every course including Bicol Express, Pork Adobo Sa Gata, Ginataang Manok, Coconut-crusted Fish or Shrimp and Chicken Inasal (using coconut oil). Yummy desserts to highlight are Bibingka, Biko with Latik and Coconut Macaroons. Perfect Pair Drink: Fresh Coconut Juice or Pina Colada
Spanish Surf and Turf Kamayan – Add a bit of Spanish flair to your kamayan by serving Paella rice topped with shrimp, squid, chicken and chorizo cooked in the same paella sauce. Traditional kamayan dishes like Inihaw na Baboy at Manok, Crispy Fried Hito/Tilapia, Lumpiang Shanghai will give the spread the extra crunch complemented by vegetable sides, Grilled Eggplant and Ginisang Kangkong. Fruits like mangoes, pineapples and watermelons would be a light and refreshing finish to this meal. Perfect Pair Drink: Kalamansi or Dalandan Juice
Pick one of these themes, stick with the traditional, or mix it up however you want. But don’t forget our favorite Filipino sauces which is nice to have both for flavor as well as to add color to your spread.
There are sauces and condiments that are good by itself like bagoong (fermented shrimp paste) or Atchara (Pickled Papaya) or in combination like “toyo at suka” (soy sauce and vinegar), kalamansi at patis (Filipino lime and fish sauce). Popular ingredients added to sauces are chopped tomatoes, garlic, onions, green or ripe mangoes, itlog na pula (salted egg) and siling labuyo (Filipino chili).
Make their dining experience more unique by describing the popular sauce combinations commonly used in Filipino meals and also encourage them to mix sauce ingredients to their liking.
3 MAKE YOUR OWN RULES AND MAKE IT FUN
Because all the food will be out in the open and can cool very easily, it is best that the food is served on the table when the guests are ready to eat. Bringing the dishes out one by one is part of the whole theatrical experience that isn’t only entertaining but also appetizing to watch!
How do you layout the food?
Rice is the star of the kamayan so you will want to bring that out before any of the main dishes, fruits or sauces. But from there, anything goes!
Some hosts might want to have one spread for everyone to share, some might want to split it in to two especially if you have a long table. I have also seen some restaurants serve individual portions of the kamayan dishes around the table with some rice and sides left in the middle for seconds. Any of these layouts work nicely depending on what you and your guest wants.
Also, you as the host, might choose to layout the food yourself while your guests enjoy the show or you can have the guests help out in laying out the dishes. Personally, I like the latter as it serves as a natural icebreaker before you start the meal.
The great thing about this dining style is that there really isn’t any formal rules or etiquette to be followed so you make your own!
More importantly, the Kamayan Feast is the epitome of communal dining because one of the most humble way to commune and “feel at one with” another person is by offering your own plate. And in a way, a kamayan feast does more. There are no crockery confines to define what is yours or mine. All that we have is for all of us to share.
So, the only rule I would give you is – Come with, one, a big appetite, two, clean hands and three, lots of room for new friends!
Hope your Christmas celebration is one that fills up your bellies, your homes with laughter and your hearts with joy and love!
Kamayan Feast at the Cabalona residence for Filipino American Leaders accross the USA including Filipino Young Leaders Program (FYLPRO) aumni, attendees of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) Conference and community friends. Kamayan Feast Prepared by Chef Rampelle Aguilar of Oxtail
Jasmine Gendrano-Pritamdasani’s 40th birthday celebration in Marlboro, New Jersey with (from L-R) Jasmine Gendrano-Pritamdasani, Shirley Felix with toddler Angelina, Alyana Felix, Martina Coronel, Marga Ebrada. Photo by Tuesday Canillas-Coronel
Surprise Kamayan Birthday Party for Cherry Kalaw in Glendale Heights, IL with (from L-R) Mary Claver, Cherry the celebrant, Myla Pua, Armmie Calairo, Laarni Bautista and Annie. Photo by Armmie Calairo
Dennis and Francheska’s daughter Cheska’s 3rd birthday celebration at Dampa Feast in Kuwait with family friends and some colleagues. Photo by Mary Grace Torres
New Year with The Earnshaws in Mandalayong City, Philippines. The family’s great great grandfather, Tomas Earnshaw was the mayor of Manila in 1927. Photo By Gypsy Rigor
Kamayan Feast to celebrate Filipino American History Month in Mora Asian Fusion in Bolingbrook with (fr L-R) Mary Lockowitz, Cindy Lopez, Tita Balcita, Romy Balcita, Clark, Bolingbrook Board of Trustees candidate Sheldon Watts, Tito Ruben Salazar, Joy Ranay. Photo by Tito Ruben