Kamayan: A Hands On Culinary Experience

When I graduated from high school, I knew that the clock would only start counting down to the day I’d have to say goodbye to old friends. But I couldn’t let this part of my life slip away without one last hurrah. So I sent invitations out to my closest friends to reminisce about the past and look forward to the future. And as a fully fledged Filipino, what was the only fitting despedida? Kamayan: The communal boodle meal for gustatory adventurists.

Kamayan is a traditional form of Filipino dinner where utensils are not used. Rather, in Kamayan, a beautiful arrangement of food sits on a bed of banana leaves at the center of the table. From lumpia to chicken adobo to grilled mussels to barbeque, kamayan leaves no stone unturned in the land of Filipino cuisine. And, of course, I would be remiss to not mention the most important part of any Filipino meal: rice. Rice piles all around the table for people to grab as they please. It is #foodporn at its finest.

And this leads to the most exciting part of Kamayan – eating with your hands. There’s almost an art to it. For example, you don’t just pick up the rice. First, you pinch it between your fingers, making it bite-sized. Then, using your thumb, carefully push the rice into your mouth. 50% grace, 50% mess, and 100% fun.

But the most exciting aspect for me wasn’t eating a probably unhealthy amount of lumpia and rice (though I guiltily admit that I enjoyed every second). Rather, it was the fact that I was able to spend time with my friends. In film, they say that every meal serves a purpose because a character never eats simply for the sake of eating. And for me, kamayan is the same thing; it is a way to bring people closer together. None of my friends were Filipino, yet everyone enjoyed learning new things.

And maybe that was the most important thing. Because we can talk about how crunchy the lumpia was or how savory the chicken adobo was, but what I really remembered in the end was how much fun I had with my friends. It’s a give-and-take kind of process, I think. When I teach my friends about Filipino culture, I learn so much from their own cultures and experiences as well. And nothing is more enlightening nor humbling than knowing that there’s a world of cultures that I have yet to experience.

So the next time you plan on having a meal with friends, cook some Filipino food, throw away your utensils, and absorb the stories and experiences around you.

Filipino Word for the Day:
despedida (n.) – farewell dinner or function; not to be confused with despacito.