Kamayan Dinner– Filipino style eating using bare hands instead of utensils.
I am on a serious Filipino food momentum these days. [Our family Thanksgiving lunch definitely helped satisfy my craving issues]. Part of this momentum is likely triggered by all these exciting articles on popular Filipino food trends, up and coming chefs, etc. I also noticed more and more kamayan style dinners popping up all over LA which had me thinking. If I had the chance to host a dinner with five guests, who would I invite?
Thanksgiving is that time of year when we reflect on our lives and count our blessings… which we celebrate by gorging ourselves and engaging in some good ol’ communal gluttony.
Traditional American Thanksgiving fixins include turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and usually some veggie dish that’s coated in some creamy substance that negates any health benefits said veggies might’ve contained.
Filipino-American Thanksgiving fixins (or the ones by my family, at least) include all of that, plus lechon, menudo, pancit, macaroni and cheese, oxtail soup, humba, potatoes au gratin, garlic fried chicken, rice, Filipino spaghetti, a whole lotta other dishes I could never identify but name but have definitely eaten frequently in my life, and not a whole lotta veggies.
How the heck do you tackle this beast of a Thanksgiving spread, you ask? Well, let me give you a brief overview of how it usually goes down in my family.
STEP 1: Oxtail soup. Always go for the oxtail. Lolo Joe makes this out-of-this-world soup made from oxtail, greens, and… actually, I have no idea what’s in it. But the broth and the fall-off-the-bone meat with some rice is definitely my go-to warm-up dish to get things going.
STEP 2: Filipino food plate. Usually, at this point, I’m so pumped to find Filipino food that I go for those dishes first. (I don’t have Filipino food often, so these are the times when I get my fill.) This time, a huge slab of lechon ended up on my plate, so I worked around that by adding just a few other sides like rice, Filipino spaghetti*, lumpia, more oxtail, and some grapes (for color).
*Filipino spaghetti: pasta noodles with sweet, thick red sauce, hot dogs (yes, hot dogs), cheese, and I’m sure loads of sugar somewhere in there. So wrong, it’s right.
STEP 3: Take a break from the savory and dip into the dessert station. I always need a little sweet as an intermission before I resume my usual entree plate program. A few bites of cassava cake, a taste of ube, a tad bit of flan, maybe some fruit, and then I’m good to get back to business.
STEP 4: Back to the savory plates. Maybe a little more American this time. After my sweet fix, I get back to eating another plate. This time, it’s usually to get into traditional Thanksgiving dishes and maybe more veggies. I have no photo of this because today the lechon overshadowed most of my attempts to eat American, but typically this is the time when I go for the turkey, potatoes, mac and cheese, and maybe look for some veggies or fruit somewhere.
STEP 5: Repeat the process throughout the day. Eating is not a finite activity on these days; with the food on sternos throughout the day, it’s completely normal in this setting to keep eating and nibbling on different dishes. You want gluttony? Come check this scenario out. But this is how we spend our quality time together, and I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll head back to my food-drunk stupor now.
Happy Thanksgiving, y’all! Hope you were able to spend it well surrounded by loved ones.
This week Aiza, Nina, and I talked about what it was like growing up in an immigrant family. We shared memories of pig roasts and mentioned that some of our family members had chickens as pets. It reminded me of that brief period of time my family also had chickens. Here, I will share that story which I wrote in college back in 2004.
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It was a lovely evening. The stars were out, a warm light breeze ran through the streets, and the pale moonlight made sure they were being peaceful. I had school in the morning but I didn’t bother setting the alarm. I didn’t have to anymore because they would do the job for me. They always did the job for me. Continue reading “Filthy McNasty”→
Over the weekend, Nina, Deo and I shared memories growing up in an immigrant family. While not necessarily unique compared to other Filipino-Americans, our experiences are definitely different than our second generation cousins, nieces and nephews who grow up with today’s modern conveniences and access.
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been conditioned to believe that the way my family does gatherings was completely, one hundred percent, normal.
By Filipino standards, perhaps it is just that. If you’ve ever grown up in a Filipino family (or at least been exposed to one), you probably know what I’m talking about. It’s an all-day, grueling (but fun) process that usually looks something like this: you wake up, take care of your assigned party prep duties, maybe change before everyone comes, greet every single relative that walks through the door, eat, socialize with a few of your fifty or so relatives present at house, eat, make your way to the living room for some music time (and avoid being called on by Lola to play the piano you haven’t played in years, or, God forbid, bust out that tap routine you did at that one party when you were six), eat, gradually send off relatives as they go home, pack up (or – you guessed it – eat) whatever food wasn’t taken for baon, then wash a mountain of dishes and put everything back to normal before going to sleep.
(… Okay, so maybe not so normal, now that I reread the tap dance thing. #personalproblem?)
Needless to say, prepping parties on that kind of scale can be quite a daunting task, and could be perceived as a bit of a deviation from the norm. But, all duties and social idiosyncrasies aside, there is a certain something special present at these parties that marks these moments as my fondest memories in my mind. It’s what one of my beloved aunts always called “QT”, or quality time: this incredible, overwhelmingly warm sense of joy our family feels when we see each other.
What makes this phenomenon special, I think, is the tendency for QT to transcend generations: at our gatherings, it’s not an uncommon sight to see an uncle-in-law strike up a conversation about technology with a nephew, a lolo team up with a youngster to poke fun at an auntie, or a niece play guitar as an auntie sings along. Sure, there’s still this unspoken standard of honoring the chain of command and respecting your elders; but when it comes to spending quality time, the concept of age and rank seems to disappear.
One of the best times to witness this is during music time. Music time is that moment during family parties when someone magically pulls out a guitar or sheet music for the piano (because there is always a piano) they just so happen to have on hand, and a group of relatives of all ages gather in the living room to sing. Music time is inevitable, and more often than not you are dragged into it at some point, to some capacity.
This past weekend’s Easter celebration at my house was no exception. When bird-like Bisaya among my lola and aunties soon turned into reminiscing about life in the Philippines, and reminiscing soon translated into singing old songs from my aunties’ and lola’s childhoods, I knew that music time was well among us. My lola and aunties took turns playing the guitar as others sang, and soon after my little sister joined in on the music with her ukulele. Even my Mexican grandmother from my dad’s side rose from her seat and started dancing along to the music! How is it that these three generations of women, from different backgrounds (and even in different languages), managed to pull together a family band so quickly?! To me, it could only be due to the magical properties of music time and QT.
So is my idea of the dynamic of a family gathering normal? Probably not.
Is it dizzying, perplexing, and overwhelming at times? Definitely.
But, nevertheless, it’s what I grew up with, and I’ll always remember these moments as some of the best times of my life.
Instead of trying to get all politically correct or make some kind of profound social commentary about being Filipino-American, I just want to discuss this growing trend of Filipino inspired cuisine. Yes. We know Filipinos can deejay, but get excited foodies we have some exciting culinary talents to contribute!
Repeat. I’ve mentioned Amboy before in a previous post and I’m mentioning it again. I LOVE this place. I’ve been here multiple times already. I’m slightly obsessed with the pork belly (which really is lechon kawali but sounds so hip when referred as ‘pork belly’). Only lunch is served at this restaurant’s little window located in the Far East Plaza in Chinatown. I give Amboy serious points for food presentation as well. No Filipino foods in a Styrofoam take out containers here.
Located in the same Far East Plaza space, LASA is doing some pretty interesting Filipino cuisine. LASA serves a rotating tasting menu that also includes a vegan option. So, for all those folks that can’t get down with the Filipinos love of anything pork, here you go. I had a chance to try out this place a couple weeks ago and interestingly enough, I think I may have been the only Filipino person there other than the chefs and staff. It’s exciting to see non-Filipinos trending on our food.
I need to get out more because I didn’t know that ube desserts were even a thing. But visit this café right in Old Town Pasadena and you will find some really interesting coffees and desserts. I didn’t get to try the halo-halo bread pudding but I am going back eventually to check it out. Did I mention that I love ube ice cream and a café with ube milkshakes might just be made exactly for me?
RiceBar is right down the street from my apartment. It’s a very small place but gets super packed for lunch. Here you will find simple tasty Filipino dishes incorporating various types of rice (hence the name, get it?). And I have to say, the staff plays some really good ambiance music too. All 90’s hip hop favorites. Nothing makes me happier than good music+good lunch+walking distance.