By Abby Langer, Foodable Contributor
Kamayan, or ‘eat with your hands culture’, is a style of eating that has been passed down for generations in Filipino culture. This style is now spreading as restaurants that offer Kamayan-style eating are popping up all over North America and consumers can't get enough of this distinctive way of dining.
What makes this dining experience unique is a Kamayan meal involves using nothing but your hands to eat, with no utensils, plates, or platters. Tables are lined with banana leaves to create a surface for the food, and food is dished out right onto the banana leaves.
What Goes into a Kamayan Feast
A Kamayan feast at Lamesa Filipino Kitchen in Toronto: After enjoying a yummy Filipino-style cocktail made with calamansi juice, guava, and pineapple, we sat at long tables dressed in banana leaves. The server began painting the leaves in front of us with sauces. The sauces used were Bagoong caramel-fermented shrimp paste, soy-garlic puree, homemade hot sauce, and Sawsawan gel made with soy, garlic, and vinegar. Next came the food. The servers laid each dish of the meal down before us in a stepwise fashion. First the green mango salad with sour mango, heirloom carrots, arugula, radish, sweet mango chutney, and garlic corn nuts. Next came the Sisig lettuce cups, with chicken, pork, and beef with chili, garlic, and onions.
After the lettuce cups, there was the Kare Kare shortribs braised in a peanut garlic sauce; smoked deboned milkfish; crispy chicken adobo chicken wings with a soy-vinegar reduction; clams and mussels ginataan with coconut milk, ginger, and garlic; plus roasted corn; garlic fried rice with crispy garlic bits, and adobo hard boiled eggs. As if this wasn’t enough, little steamers with ube (purple yam) cornbread were placed on the table, along with shot glasses of chicken tinola broth made with chicken, chayote, and ginger.
After everything was laid out, it was finally time to eat! My table mates and I had to just dive right in with our hands. As you can see, there isn’t really a clear demarcation of where my food ends and the person opposite to me’s food begins. It’s sort of a food free for all but everyone had their own personal space. If your usual dining-mate is the type of person to steal food off your plate without asking, this type of set-up would be heaven for them. And you definitely want to wash your hands before eating this meal!
Creates Communal Dining Experience and Easy Clean Up
This dining experience is communal, and so informal. You often meet and socialize with new people. I never met any of my dining companions before in my life, but soon we were all engaged in great conversation. There’s something about eating with your hands that breaks down social barriers very quickly.
Even though our table looked like a bomb hit it after we were all done eating, cleanup was a snap for the staff – they just rolled up the banana leaves, and they were done. For restaurants that want to offer a meal to remember, this is it. Kamayan offers an experience that’s informal, fun, and communal. It’s an experience especially appeals to millennials in particular (but not exclusively), who are always on the lookout for new and exciting dining experiences.
The Art of Eating With Your Hands
There is certainly an art to eating messy food with your hands– So how do you do it? Just follow these simple steps:
- On a top of a small amount of rice, place a small amount of main dish (“ulam” in Tagalog) using your dominant hand.
- Using your finger and thumb, pinch the food together as if you are picking a bit of cheese. Don’t forget to include the rest of your fingers in the pinch or else it won’t work.
- Make sure that your all your fingers are shaped around the rice and viand “ulam”.
- Lift your hand towards your mouth while leaning your head forward and place your thumb behind the food.
- With one big push using your thumb, shove the food into your mouth. You can do this effectively if you’ll make sure that your fingers are close to your lower teeth.