The big spoon and fork on the wall, found in many Filipino kitchens, are considered a source of tradition and pride, a symbol of health and prosperity, even the butt of earnest jokes about our love of food. But more than anything to anyone familiar with Philippine history, it is a reminder of our colonized history.
There were no spoons and forks before Spanish conquistadors took over the islands now known as the Philippines. The native Indios, like practical indigenous people all around the world, ate with their hands, kamayan style (meaning "with hands," from the Filipino "kamay" = "hand"). The Spaniards saw this as savagery. Kubyertos--the spoon and fork--weren't merely "introduced" to our ancestors, they were forced upon us as a way to "civilize" us in the eyes of our new colonial masters.
Those who continued to eat with their hands were looked down upon by the master, and so the big spoon and fork on the wall became to natives what the big American flag became to many brown people in the US after 9/11. A visual display to the oppressor that we're down. Or a way to play along and hope they leave us alone.
Whatever the case, we never stopped eating with our hands. And we're not going to stop anytime soon. This month's pop-up, Kamayan, is a continuation of the spirit of our last pop-up, Pulutan. It's a celebration of a new season that merges the fresh local seafood of our Pacific Northwest setting with a tradition that we've always known. This month's menu features one prix-fixe meal--a Filipino version of the Northwest crab pot, including a soup and salad starter course, a gang of seafood, and a dessert.
Kamayan isn't about bringing it back as much as it is pushing it forward. This ain't a yearning for pre-colonial days. What happened, happened. There are bigger battles to be waged on new grounds. Kamayan is a nod to my Ilocano parents and grandparents who taught me and my sisters how to use a spoon and fork at the dinner table even as they ate with their hands. It's us saying "we see you."
Often, my non-Filipino friends, carrying on the tradition of the irony-deficient Spaniards who came over 400 years ago, would come over to eat and make some snarky comment about how moms and pops eating with their hands was gross. Perhaps Kamayan is a way of shedding the shame of moments like that. Plus, it's kind of the thing right now. It's dope to see this way of eating propagated by the current generation of food curators throughout the Filipino diaspora, from the Kamayan Nights at Jeepney Filipino Gastropub in NYC, to the currently-traveling SALO Series Filipino Food in 50 States pop-up project, and even all the way out in Germany and Britain.
Lastly, who doesn't use their hands to eat these days? No disrespect, but if you're cutting up a burger or pizza with a fork and knife, then you are the weirdo, not us. This month, we leave our spoons and forks on the wall, say "fuck the colonizer!" and celebrate our past and future with family, friends, fresh food, and good music. Like we always do.
Go to the KAMAYAN event page for menu & reservations.