By Darlene Horn | September 12, 2014
Photos by: Darlene Horn
Put aside all your preconceived notions about proper utensils and add Villa Manila’s Kamayan Night to your bucket list. Every Thursday, Villa Manila in National City hosts an evening where your hands are your utensils. For the uninitiated and unfamiliar with the practice, it can be intimidating…but rest assured, we’re here to guide you with tips and hints on what to expect.
Since beginning Kamayan Night last summer, word has been getting out about this unique eating experience. New York City’s popular Filipino restaurant, Jeepney, draws big crowds for their kamayan meals, and Villa Manila is becoming just as popular. Reservations for Thursday night fill up quickly; reserve a spot by Tuesday or you're out of luck.
The Filipino word kamayan loosely translates into “shake hands,” but in terms of food it refers to eating with your hands. It’s a centuries-old tradition that can still be seen today in private homes and restaurants and not reserved just for special occasions. One popular saying is the food tastes better when you eat with your hands.
Villa Manila is situated in National City, one of many Filipino hot spots in San Diego County. You’ll be surrounded by parties as well as families out for the evening. But don’t fret if you feel out of your element— the culture is very welcoming and everyone is just there to eat.
No Plates Provided
For Kamayan Night, all the tables at Villa Manila are lined with banana leaves. Hot rice is plopped in the middle, followed by each component of the meal. Once everything is on the table, it's time to dig in.
Lots of Meat and Rice
The basic set for Kamayan Night feeds up to four people, and includes fried chicken, grilled pork, milkfish, steamed shrimp, eggplant, mustard leaves and salted, preserved red eggs on top of a huge pile of white rice ($50). There are no substitutions, and menu items can change without notice based on availability.
How to Use Your Hands
The basic way to eat with your hands is to use your dominant hand. Using your fingers, grab some rice and use your thumb to pinch it into a tight wad. Add little meat or veggies onto the ball and push the food into your mouth with your thumb. Repeat.
Don't Drink the Finger Bowls
It’s a given that your hands will eventually get sticky with the rice and other food. Rinse them out in the small bowl of water by your side. There are lots of paper towels alongside glasses of drinking water.
Pile on the Side Orders
Need more food? Order up additional sides like mango salad ($5), lechon kawali ($11.50) and adobo ($10). Unfortunately, you won’t find popular party favorites like lumpia and pancit on the kamayan menu.
Save Room For Dessert
After all the meat and rice, we suggest ending the evening on a sweet note with halo-halo. Crushed ice is topped with condensed milk, ube (purple yam) ice cream with blocks of flavored gelatin and leche flan on the bottom. Don’t worry, spoons and bowls are provided.
All photos by Darlene Horn