By: Lou Maningas Cabalona
When I asked my friend Chef Rampelle to prepare a Filipino dinner for a guest of twenty at our home last summer, he came back to me with the idea of having a boodle fight. For those who have not heard of it, Wikipedia describes it as the military practice of eating a meal in Filipino culture where food is served on top of a banana leaf lined table and is eaten “kamayan” style, that is, eating with the hands (no silverware, cutlery or plates).
I was familiar with the concept. At some point a year or two ago, every Filipino restaurant and pop-up in the USA started offering a boodle fight feast, rebranded with a more appealing and exotic sounding “Kamayan feast”, which enticed customers both new and old to experience Filipino food in a different light.
It even triggered some memories, although hazy, about a celebration at our local Church in Pasig City where we had a similar set up. One long narrow table about 20 feet in length but only about 2 feet wide was custom built out of wood in the garden area of the church. I remember Ates and Kuyas from our church choir layering banana leaves fully covering the top before they formed a mountain range of white rice lining the center from end to end. It was over 20 years ago so I’m half guessing when I say we had menudo and inihaw na baboy but I do remember thinking I had to sweep my share of the feast to my area of the table ahead of everyone before bare hands started poking into food I was about to eat.
I had my reservations, rightfully so, but I wanted to give my guests something special I could only say yes.
And boy, did it turn out to be one of the most enjoyable and memorable intimate dinners (by intimate, I mean 20 or less people) we’ve had at home! More than the theatrical way Chef laid out the scrumptious dishes laid one by one over the bed of adobo rice; more than the excitement you feel being part of a comestible scavenger hunt, the boodle fight seemed to immediately break, no, melt the ice among our guests in a way that a plated or buffet table service couldn’t have done so easily. And we, as hosts, could truly enjoy the dinner – the feasting, the stories and conversations, and the laughter that ensues when someone points out the corner of the table where much of the food has disappeared, as opposed to focusing on whether the catering dish needs to be replenished with more lumpia or when to bring out the next course.
Needless to say our Kamayan Feast was a huge success!
I loved it so much, I knew that’s how I wanted to have my family’s sendoff party when they came to visit Chicago for my son’s christening and my sister’s wedding last October. This time, the whole family prepared it together from cleaning banana leaves and prepping the table to designing how we want the rice, main meats, the fruits and sauces to be laid out. After which, we celebrated a job well done by gorging on our artwork for hours after.
Surprisingly, when we attended a private Filipino American Historical Month celebration at Sunda downtown, they also featured a gorgeous kamayan spread for its 300 guests complemented by a fresh sushi station where they made “kinilaw” (raw seafood dish “cooked” in vinegar) and a halo-halo station with a choice of fresh fruits and a trio of very Filipino ice cream flavors – ube, avocado and corn & cheddar. Yes!
The Kamayan Feast is the epitome of communal dining, where the objective is to “commune” or “feel at one with” another, whether it is a family member or a friend’s friend you met that day. No wonder, it became a popular way of breaking bread among the Philippine Military where both army soldiers and commanding officers eat together as a symbol of camaraderie, brotherhood and equality.
To be fair, I cannot conclude that the tradition is uniquely Filipino although I cannot find any proof otherwise in the great World Wide Web, the source of all truth nowadays. But, I can see why it has become a wellloved custom among many Filipinos and an exciting, almost romantic introduction for those interested in our cuisine. And I, for one, hope that our beloved kamayan feast becomes Filipinos’ quintessential contribution to family-style dining.
So how do you put together a fantastic Filipino Kamayan feast? Will share tips and tricks and creative ideas to make your kamayan feast the topic of conversation many parties after in our next issue!
OCTOBER CELEBRATIONS IN FULL SWING
Speaking of parties, amid many Filipino American History Month celebrations last month, October was also a family celebration- filled month for our household.
Our son, Reign Malaya Cabalona and Eloise Olivia, the daughter of close friends John and Emily Knicker were welcomed into the Christian world last Oct 14, 2018 at a Christening ceremony officiated by Fr. Robert Fedek at the Immaculate Conception Parish in Chicago. An joint lunch reception attended by the Knicker and Alvarez family, the Maningas and Cabalona family, Reign’s 11 godparents in the USA (from Illinois, Kentucky and California) with their partners and a handful of family friends was held at Biagio’s. As expected of any Filipino party, there was a lot of singing with live band karaoke thanks to grand-pipa Orlando, dancing, jokes, stories and of course, food to last til early evening! Happy Christening, Anak! Happy Christening, dear Eloise!
Also, Congratulations to my sister, Lee for tying the knot in her and wife Carmen’s favorite city last October 20, 2018. The Chicago cityscape was the perfect background to their simple union by the Milton Lee Olive Park downtown witnessed by select family members and very close friends from all over the USA and Cayman Islands and officiated by her brother-in-law, Baron Cabalona. (Yes, my husband is a licensed wedding officiant). After the short ceremony, the party of sixteen walked down towards Navy Pier for the wedding lunch reception at Riva Crab House. Friends and Family offered their best wishes and advice as they feasted on the delicious steaks and seafood offerings. The afternoon was capped by Lee serenading Carmen on the guitar with the song “Perfect” sung by close friend, Josh Torres and yours truly. Wishing the couple lifelong happiness in their marriage as they start their wedded life back in Los Angeles, California.
The extended family enjoying the fruits of their own labor, the kamayan feast, (Fr L to R) Chica, Aiden and EJ Arana, Carmen Cagabcab and Lee Maningas, Orlando “Pipa” Cabalona, Baron, Reign Malaya and Louella Cabalona, mother Sally Mesde and Genia Cabalona
At Sunda’s Filipino American History Month Celebration featuring a wonderful Kamayan spread. Posing after dinner are Celia Rodriquez, Louella Cabalona, Tita Celia, mother of owner, Billy Dec, Lu Luciano Murphy and Maryrose Ople posing with her favorite drink for the night
Louella standing at the nearly wiped out end of Sunda’s very long Kamayan spread while guests still enjoying the offerings in the middle and the whole lechon de leche (suckling pig) at the far end
SamaSama Project and friends at Sunda’s Filipino American History Month Celebration (Fr L to R) Businessman Marlon Tan and Guitarist John Kniker, Saxophonist Giga Yanong, Marketing ProfessNafi Muradova, vocalist Louella Cabalona and drummer Baron Cabalona
Newly baptized Eloise Kniker with parents John and Emily and grand parents (fr Left) John and Lyn Boucher Kniker and Sandy Alvarez
Newly baptized Reign Malaya with Parents Baron and Louella and grandparents Sally Mesde (left), Genia and Orlando Cabalona (right) and Officiating Priest, Fr. Robert Fedek
Carmen Cagabcab and Lee Maningas’ wedding at the Milton Lee Olive Park witnessed by family and closest friends
The newlyweds, Carmen Cagabcab and Lee Maningas surrounded by family members at the Riva Crab House at Navy Pier