Filipino Feasting: an annotated guide to Lamesa’s hands-only banana-leaf dinner

Filipino Feasting: an annotated guide to Lamesa’s hands-only banana-leaf dinner

(Image: Jackie Pal) (Image: Jackie Pal)
 

On Sunday nights, Queen West restaurant Lamesa serves “Kamayan” dinner, a family-style feast that’s laid out on banana leaves and consumed without utensils. (Loosely translated, “kamayan” means “eating with your hands.”) Chef Rudy Boquila and sous-chef Joash Dy serve the meal themselves, presenting each component with a theatrical flourish. And there are a lot of components—18 by our count. We asked Dy to walk us through the meal from beginning to end. Here’s what he told us.

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The chefs start by painting a sticky brown stripe of bagoong caramel across a mat of oiled banana leaves. Bagoong is a fermented shrimp paste that’s common in Filipino cuisine. Boquila and Dy add sugar to the mix, making for a sweeter, stickier sauce.
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Next comes a swoosh of soy-garlic confit purée. Soy and garlic are big Filipino flavours, but the chefs add a French twist by blending the soy with sweetened, softened cloves that have been slow-simmered in oil.

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The dark brown dollops are sawsawan gel. Classic Filipino sawsawan (dipping sauce) is made with soy, vinegar and garlic. Here, the liquid is mixed with agar agar, a vegetarian gelatin substitute, to give it a less drippy texture. (“We don’t want it running all over the table,” says Dy.)

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The final sauce is an orangey-red hot sauce made with red peppers and bird’s-eye chilis. “It’s our version of Sriracha,” says Boquila.
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Once sauces are down, the chefs add a tangle of green mango salad. Unripe mangos are a popular snack in the Philippines, where the fruit is chopped into wedges and dipped in bagoong (see #1, above). Here, mangos are sliced thin and tossed in a citrusy vinaigrette with heirloom carrots and arugula.

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A few dollops of sticky mango chutney add a sweet component to the sour-mango salad. (“This is kind of Indian-inspired,” says Dy.)
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The chicken sisig lettuce cup is Lamesa’s take on a Filipino dish made with leftover meat scraps (usually pig’s head and liver), which are boiled, chopped, heavily seasoned and served on a sizzling platter with rice and egg—not a meal that’s easy to eat with your hands. Here, an iceberg leaf provides a practical solution. It’s topped with pico de gallo and fried noodles.
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Garlic fried rice (or sinangag) is a typical breakfast food in the Philippines, where grains are paired with eggs and cured meats. The chefs intensify the flavours by adding crunchy fried garlic bits on top.
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The pickled adobo egg is chef Dy’s ode to the chicken adobo stews of his childhood. He boils whole eggs until they’re almost hard, then submerges them for three or four hours in a vinegary pickling liquid flavoured with Bay leaves, peppercorns and soy sauce.
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Next comes a pile of clams and mussels ginataan. The term ginataan refers to food cooked in coconut milk. The clam shells are also pretty handy as rice-scoopers. (“That’s cheating, though,” says Dy.)
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Grilled Corn is another popular Filipino snack food, and “one of the best foods for eating with your hands,” notes Dy. It’s prepared simply, with just a drizzle of garlic oil.
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Baby bok choi—also grilled—adds another green element to the meal. It’s meant to complement the oxtail (see #14, below).
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To make Lamesa’s crispy adobo wings, Dy submerges chicken wings in an adobo-flavoured brine, then deep-fries them in a batter laced with achuete powder, which gives the chicken its bright red hue. The wings are finished with a sticky, spicy adobo gastrique.
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Oxtail kare-kare is a Filipino stew made with leafy greens and a garlicky peanut sauce. Boquila and Dy use bone-in oxtail pieces for easy gnawing.
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The notoriously bony bangus is the national fish of the Philippines, where it’s deboned, smoked and eaten for breakfast. “Unlike other fish, the bangus has a big, rich belly,” says Dy. “It tastes a bit like bone marrow.”
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Cornbread isn’t a Filipino thing, but ube cornbread definitely is. Ube—also known as purple yam—is a staple ingredient in Filipino cuisine, most often used in desserts.
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This shot glass contains chicken tinola broth, a ginger-laced soup that’s meant to be sipped between bites. “It freshens up the taste buds for whatever you eat next,” says Dy.
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The final flourishes—baked kale chips and fresh pea sprouts—add colour and texture. The crispy kale is a nod to North American food trends. Says Dy: “Kale chips aren’t big in the Philippines.”

$40 per person. Lamesa Filipino Kitchen, 669 Queen St. W., lamesafilipinokitchen.com