Photo by Leslie Bernarte taken at Balinsasayaw Restaurant in Tagaytay City, Philippines
What is a Boodle?
A boodle is a very large collection of food that comes on banana leaves. The bottom layer is usually white rice on top of which can be fish, shrimp, crab, squid, clams, eggplant, bagoong, salted duck eggs, lato (seaweed), and slices of green mangoes, etc.
In a boodle arrangement, diners eat with their fingers.
That’s because this type of meal has its roots in the Philippine military’s style of eating in which soldiers, regardless of rank or position, dine together on food spread out on banana leaves.
It is strictly hands only — no spoons, forks, or knives.
For soldiers, as well as groups of friends, families and office mates, the boodle fight symbolizes camaraderie and equality in the enjoyment of lots and lots of food.
It’s possible that the term is from the English idiomatic phrase “whole kit and kaboodle” but there is no definitive proof for that. There are also anecdotal recollections that the word and concept were in use at the U.S. West Point Academy in the 1950s.
The Filipino word “boodle” and particularly the associated concept of going to a restaurant for a boodle are relatively recent in Philippine society. It’s true that for centuries people on the islands would use banana leaves as plates for rice and food especially when outdoors, such as at the beach, and that there are large meals shared, and one uses a hand (normally the right) for eating when no utensils are available. Some days, you just want to feel the rice and ulam between the tips of your fingers and enjoy food that way. But really the concept of purposely having a “boodle” cannot have gone mainstream until after 20 years ago.
A few Filipino Americans have decided to commodify this “boodle” trend, though they’ve opted to forego the Philippine term and refer to it with a more exotic-sounding word to appeal to non-FilAms who like to purchase cultural experiences. They call it kamayan, which is a Tagalog word that’s generic to Filipino ears.
As mentioned earlier, using a hand (kamay) to informally eat food has gone on for literally ages on the archipelago. But the fact that practically every other Filipino household all over the world has large wooden spoons and forks displayed on their walls points to the pride that we have a distinctive way of eating — not with fork and knife, but with spoon and fork (kutsara’t tinidor). It’s really emblematic of Filipino history and culture. The utensils are Western contributions to our lifestyle, yet we use them in our own way.