I: Sometimes, when we had a lot of family over for a gathering, we would prepare a boodle fight. My aunt would lay down some banana leaves on the table and the food would just pile on. Rice, seafood, pancit, beef and pork. And there were no dishes, no utensils. You eat with your hands. Just family sharing a meal. Oh, and a lot of napkins.
The informant is 48, and was born and raised in the United States, and whose parents were born and raised in the Philippines. This wasn’t a feast that happened often, but also wasn’t necessarily exclusive to special occasions. Whenever there were many family members in the house, a lot of food was prepared so that everyone would eat. Rather than being a meal that celebrated a certain occasion, it was a time for family members to share a meal while also catching up on each other’s lives.
The “boodle fight”, also known as the kamayan by some Filipinos, refers both to the communal feast and the act of eating with your hands. The term “boodle fight” specifically, comes from American military slang that was used to describe contraband food. According to sources, the kamayan was an indigenous Filipino practice that existed before pre-colonization. Though it was continually practiced through Spanish occupation, it was during American military occupation that the practice was suppressed due to forced conversion of American standards and etiquette. The resurgence of the kamayan in Filipino households, especially those in Filipino-American households, marks a conscience return to Filipino cultural roots, with the tradition being passed down from family member to family member, without the threat of American confirmation or suppression. The commercialized version of the boodle fight, now available as an option in some modern Filipino-American restaurants, continues this tradition and also extends it to people outside the cultural group as a meal shared amongst friends.