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Let Your Fingers Do The Eating: Bonifacio's APAHM Kamayan

Subo (Su-bo; Tagalog) - Verb
1. sumubo', isubo' (-um:i-) to get into trouble. 
2. to feed or put food into the mouth

Subo - that was a word I was quite familiar with as a child, more so the second meaning than the first. Often times, it was a request from my parents, grandparents, or other adult relatives, who wanted me to feed younger members of the family whose focus was intent on playing, not eating. This was fraught with its own dangers: catching one of my younger siblings or cousins was not unlike grabbing a chicken in its pen at times, and spilled food and liquids on the floor were fairly common.

Another implied meaning of this word for me lay in the method of feeding. For all but the youngest, feeding involved using my fingers to grab just the right-sized morsel to fit inside the target's mouth. Often times, that target would be my own mouth, and this process felt natural and instinctive to me.

The Filipino kamayan (Tagalog for "by hand") derived from pre-colonization traditions, when utensils were basically non-existent and food was eaten by hand, adding a unique tactile element to an experience (the act of preparing and providing food to others) that developed over the years as an ultimate show of love and respect in the culture.

When the United States took over the Philippines after defeating the original colonizing Spanish in the Spanish-American War, the new rulers thought this eating by hand was uncivilized at best. A concerted effort was made to teach natives the etiquette of "proper" dining, and indeed, these efforts worked to fairly large extent, as dining utensils are now commonplace.

But with a tradition so ingrained, there was no real way this would disappear entirely. As a matter of fact, kamayan has evolved from the everyday to the special, used for special family feasts or community gatherings. Many of the growing number of Filipino restaurants around the U.S. have also introduced these events to their dining customers, including Columbus's own Bonifacio, which has been hosting them since October 2016.

Our first Kamayan with Bonifacio was about as good as you can get.  Despite what certain reader polls may say about the best Asian eateries in the metro, three of the area's truly best were teamed up for this gathering focused on celebrating Asian Pacific-American Heritage Month (APAHM), with Krizzia Yanga and the crew from Bonifacio teaming with some of the best local food trucks in Laura Lee's Korean-inspired Ajumama and Sara Siv's taste of Hawaii in Aloha Streatery and Aloha 'Aina.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to me prior to the food making its way out of the kitchen was the gathered diners, which came from all walks of life, nationalities, and ages. It seemed proof positive on how much a communal gathering point these kamayans can truly be for the community at large.

After a flight of cocktails and a traditional Korean pre-meal toast with Soju, a spirit dating back to 13th century, the procession of tasty bites began, ready to be hoisted into hungry mouths by hand.

The food all around was just plain delicious. It's hard to pick a favorite; even things that normally wouldn't float my boat like the Fried Whole Tilapia were extremely tasty, and the simplest of dishes like the Kimchi Cucumbers were addicting gobblers. Perhaps the biggest challenge, especially with all the protein available (besides the fish, Kahlua Pig, Charsiu and Kalbi Short Ribs, and Chicken Bulgogi were all within fingers' reach), was making sure you saved enough room for the dessert. In this case, the Ube and Haupia Pie proved to be a nicely light finisher both in texture and sweetness, and was accentuated nicely with a tangy and pulpy Citron Sorbet.

As styrofoam containers were distributed to diners to pack the leftovers for future consumption, we found out that all three entities that brought us together have some exciting things planned in the near future.  A collaboration between Aloha Streatery and Ajumama is apparently in the works (details TBD) and Ajumama has their annual Plate Lunch pop-up slated for the middle of July. Last but not least, our hosts Bonifacio are launching a dinner series featuring regional cuisines of the Philippines, starting with the June 4 exploration of the dishes of Mindanao, the southernmost big island of the country.

Ajumama Food Truck
For the latest info on their upcoming locations, please consult:
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Aloha Streatery Food Truck
For latest information on their locations, please consult
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1577 King Ave (Fifth by Northwest - Google Maps)
Columbus, OH
(614) 221-1889
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1 comment:

  1. I am so bummed I cannot go to the June 4 event! I had bought tickets when it was originally scheduled for May 28 but they changed it due to the holiday but had to get them refunded cause we had a conflict. Definitely one of my favorite restaurants.