A kamayan dinner is a Filipino feast in which you eat unimaginable amounts of food off banana leaves at a communal table, without any utensils whatsoever.
It may be the grand equalizer to finally give Filipino cuisine the push that it needs to become as popular as Thai and Vietnamese cuisines in the US. That's the hope, at least, of Caroline Kostiuk, her husband Daniel, and their sold-out, 40-seat supper club.
During the first session of this momentous feast last Saturday, the couple served a spread of traditional dishes, including fried, crispy pata made from organic, local ham hocks; grilled lemongrass chicken; shrimp and kabocha squash braised in coconut milk; banana leaf-steamed fish; pancit; lumpia; homemade Spam sliders; fresh shrimp chips; and pickled green papaya. All of these delights were piled high across a 32-feet-long, 25-pound, snake-like mound of jasmine rice.
The dinner was held in The Brewery Artist Lofts, northeast of downtown Los Angeles, in a studio Caroline and Daniel found through Airbnb. They rented it out for the night and wowed everyone with the sheer volume and quality of the food. Many of the diners are also followers of the couple's Instagram account, and the vast majority were Filipino.
"Nothing on this table is from Ralph's," Daniel joked as everyone took a seat and prepared to eat. "There is only one rule tonight: You are not allowed to leave hungry."
An Asian cuisine that—by nature of its history with Spanish colonizers—is one of the most varied on the planet.
Daniel and Caroline are well-known in the LA food scene, thanks to their passionate commitment to live off the grid. Their DIY ethos shines through even in the Hawaiian roll-like pan de sal buns and the banana ketchup used for their Spam sliders, which were made from scratch earlier that day. This kamayan feast wasn't the first in LA history, but Caroline believes it was the best so far.
"I've been to a couple of other kamayan dinners and it wasn't what I expected," Caroline says. "People kept on asking me to do one on Instagram, [so] I finally did."
Caroline is catching a wave of Filipino food trendiness, an Asian cuisine that—by nature of its history with Spanish colonizers—is one of the most varied on the planet. There is now an official hashtag and organization in San Francisco behind the Filipino food movement in the US. For Caroline, however, this style of eating is also a way to keep her three children connected to their Filipino roots.
Caroline has her theories about why Filipino food hasn't caught on as fast as Chinese, Thai, or even Vietnamese. "Filipinos, in general, are so easygoing and are really good at assimilating. This sometimes means forgetting about your culture's food." Nonetheless, she has noticed that more young Filipino-Americans are now taking back their culture's cuisine.
As for the dinner, the evening went off without a hitch, with diners smiling and belly-rubbing throughout the meal. Gabriel Carbajal, a local food photographer, attended the pop-up and proclaimed the food and "communal vibe" of the dinner to be mind-altering. Janie Fainsan, a pastry chef who is half-Filipina, couldn't stop talking about Caroline's halo halo tres leches cake layered with ube whipped cream, flan, and a banana wafer. "It was like floating on a halo halo cloud," Fainsan explained.
"I am already planning another dinner as early as next month," Caroline told me at the end of the night as she cleaned up the leftovers. "I'm already getting a bunch of collaboration requests, so there will definitely be many more in the future." As I walked out of the building and noticed that the only leftovers were just a bunch of bone scraps, I got the feeling that she is on to something big.
Watch out, world—the Filipino food movement is coming.