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Credit: Photo: Neal Santos; Food Styling Amelia Rampe

Pamilya-Style: Celebrating the Filipinx American Experience with a Modern-Day Kamayan Potluck

published Oct 18, 2021
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During my time working in food media, my goal above all else has been to educate home cooks on how to cook and eat well and to bring equity to the extremely white, homogenous food media space by creating packages that share not only my Filipinx culture, but also cultures around the world. Something I don’t often share publicly is how hard I work behind the scenes to bring diversity, equity, and inclusion to this food media space. Some days this work is exhilarating, and some days this work feels stagnant. I have promised myself to continue to do this work even when it’s tough — even when I feel like quitting. In this industry that makes Black and Brown folks feel othered in so many ways, I will always strive to bring equity to this space. I want Black and Brown hands, faces, and food in content. I promise to not give up until equity is realized. We have so far to go.

For this Filipinx American History Month, I wanted to honor my fellow Fil Am food creatives by celebrating their voices and sharing their food. To my Filipinx siblings, no matter what your experience is here in this country, we are all united by our Motherland. It is the fabric that binds us all together. I will never judge you, your Filipino-ness, your American-ness, your accent, the shade of your skin, your love, your pronouns, your tropes, or your stories because they are yours and part of the Filipinx American experience. I celebrate you wholly, as you are. I celebrate us. Because I am one person out of many shades of the Filipinx experience, I would never claim to be the all-knowing spokesperson on what it means to be Filipinx American. No one person can. Each one of us has our own history and experience. 

Credit: Photo: Neal Santos; Food Styling Amelia Rampe

It is in that spirit that I chose to not develop recipes for this year’s FAHM package, but instead lift the names of other Filipinx Americans who have been pushing our culture by sharing our food online and on social media, hosting pop-ups, and owning restaurants. I wanted to support Filipinx American creators as much as I could across this package. And what better way to celebrate being Filipino than to eat kamayan-style? I invited all the developers to my home to celebrate our culture with a kamayan-style potluck and eat the recipes they contributed to this package. Instead of the guests cooking their food and bringing it over, my assistant and I made their recipes. I just wanted everyone to relax and do what we do best: Eat and have a good time. 

Some of these folks I had already been acquainted with and some I have admired from afar. Each person is influencing how we think about modern-day Filipinx American cuisine; maybe our grandchildren will read about them and be inspired. I am so grateful for their participation in this package. Having tested all of their recipes I can tell you that their dishes are so delicious; I encourage you all to make them. Your mouth and belly will thank you.

Credit: Photo: Neal Santos; Food Styling Amelia Rampe

Meet the Filipinx American Stars

  • Rachel and Joel Javier: This husband-and-wife duo founded Flip Eats, which started as a pop-up at a Brooklyn bar and has grown into a food-focused business that offers everything from catering to cooking classes. Joel, who has worked alongside Michelin-starred chefs in New York and Europe, and Rachel, a special events pro, are an incredible team.
  • Alyssa Kondracki: My amazing food styling assistant for this shoot. She makes beautiful food, is a talented writer, and also has some incredible pics of her family’s lechon parties in the ’70s and ’80s.
  • Dapoy Manansala: After 20-plus years in the food industry — starting with pop-ups and including a stint at Jeepney — they started using the Philadelphia-based Kampar Kitchen as a platform to get their food out via a twice-monthly meal kit. You can also catch them at various locations around Philly (and beyond!) making awesome food. Two upcoming examples: a Sunday Filipino brunch at Juana Tamale and Queer Soup Night.
  • Jen Phanomrat: Jen is the co-founder of Just Eat Life, a lifestyle video production company, where she explores the intersections of food, culture, and identity. Her vibrant, inspiring recipes and food content are influenced by her hometown of Queens, New York, along with her Filipino and Thai roots.
  • Woldy Reyes: Chef and founder of Brooklyn-based Woldy Kusina, Woldy’s cuisine is centered around a simple philosophy — to provide good food and good experiences, with sustainability and culture at the heart of it all. As a first-generation Filipino American, he effortlessly infuses contemporary dishes with vibrant flavors and colors that are inspired by his Filipino roots.
  • Neal Santos: This Philadelphia-based editorial and commercial photographer has a keen visual eye and a passion for food, too. He’s an urban farmsteader and was the co-owner of a Filipino restaurant in a Philly food hall. He and I teamed up last year on this Filipino recipe package I created and I’m excited to be working with him again this year.
  • Genevieve Villamora: Genevieve is the co-owner of Bad Saint, an award-winning Filipino restaurant in Washington, DC.
Credit: Photo: Neal Santos; Food Styling Amelia Rampe
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Everybody dig in!

What Does It Mean to Eat Kamayan?

Kamayan is a traditional Filipino style of eating, where various foods are laid out on torched banana leaves. The tablescape is piled with rice, garlic fried rice, cut fruit, and anything and everything from lumpia to longanisa to lechon. It is not only a feast for your belly, but also a feast for the eyes. The guests sit around the table and dig in — but not with a fork and spoon. Instead we eat in our indigenous style, with our hands. Kamayan literally translates to “by hand.” Eating kamayan predates colonization: American colonizers felt the need to domesticate Filipinos by teaching them Western etiquette, which included teaching us how to eat with a fork and spoon. So eating kamayan feels like an act of rebellion.

Credit: Photo: Neal Santos; Food Styling Amelia Rampe
Rachel Javier with perfect form

How to Eat with Your Hands: A Primer 

When eating kamayan, always wash your hands thoroughly before and after. We use our fingertips when eating — never the palms. Using your dominant thumb and fingertips, collect a small pile of rice. Press the rice onto the surface, and pinch to lift. Use your thumb to push the rice into your mouth. Use your less dominant hand to hold your drink, napkin, etc.

But in this time of COVID-19, keeping the utmost safety in mind, instead of eating with our hands we spread the food out in the traditional style but ate off plates. Another concern I addressed when spreading the food on the table was respecting individual eating choices. On the left I started with the vegan recipe, then moved into pescatarian, and then to pork. I also made sure to lift some of the dishes up off of the banana leaves to avoid cross-contamination. At the far right end of the table, I finished with dessert. 

It was a total pleasure to coordinate this package, but truly the best part was the fiesta. We spent the afternoon in communion, sharing experiences, tasting food, hugging (everyone was vaccinated and tested!) and enjoying each other’s company and laughing. It was an evening of Filipinx joy. Not only did I leave with new friends, but also a new “pamilya” and a renewed sense of community. Honestly, when I think about our time together, my eyes well with tears. It was a beautiful evening — one I sorely needed after 18 months in a pandemic, and one I won’t soon forget and hope to replicate with them all in the future. MABUHAY!

Filipinx Kamayan Potluck Recipes

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Ukoy with Shrimp and Anchovies Recipe
These crispy fried shrimp and vegetable fritters are served with a sour, spiced vinegar dipping sauce called sukang sawsawan. Every bite features an eye-widening harmony of salty, tangy, crunchy flavors and textures.
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2 / 6
Ginataan Na Sugpo Recipe (Prawns with Coconut Milk)
Head-on prawns are cooked in an aromatic coconut broth infused with lemongrass, anchovies, ginger, and chiles.
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3 / 6
Peach-Banana Glazed Tocino Skewers with Daikon Atchara Recipe
Homemade tocino is skewered, grilled, and served with a banana-peach BBQ glaze and a shredded pickled vegetable condiment called atchara.
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4 / 6
Ricotta Bibingka Recipe
These bite-sized ricotta bibingka are extra rich, thanks to evaporated milk, cream cheese, and coconut milk.
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5 / 6
Ginataan Pancit Canton Noodles with Miso and Pink Peppercorns Recipe
This velvety bowl of slippery, creamy noodles — made with coconut milk, miso, and plenty of aromatics — will satisfy cravings for both cacio e pepe and pancit.
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Lumpiang Sariwa Recipe (Fresh Lumpia)
Shredded vegetables, shrimp, and Chinese sausage are wrapped in a crepe and topped with sweet soy sauce and peanuts.
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