Jul 17, 2024

Kamayan seafood feast at Kulinarya in Commercial Drive, Vancouver

Kamayan, or eating with your hands while food is spread on banana leaves, has become increasingly popular in Filipino restaurants around the Greater Vancouver area.

 But New York-based chef  Harold Villarosa is hoping that it will be more than just a food trend.

“There’s really nothing else more important than breaking bread together, eating together as a community, and that’s the only way communities can make the change,” Villarosa said.

Villarosa, who is also the founder of Insurgo, a community collective committed to nurturing the farm-to-table movement in low-income neighbourhoods, was in Vancouver recently for the TED talks.

While in town, Villarosa reached out to Rosette Samaniego, co-owner of Filipino restaurant Kulinarya and local chefs Mark Singson (Top Chef Canada finalist, 2018) and Corbin Venida for a pop-up.

This set the motion for a kamayan, a fish-centered luncheon for Lent on Good Friday.

The dishes were a showcase of the three Filipino chefs’ creations, with help from five students from the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts.

Offered were roasted salmon with Villarosa’s signature curry sauce, Venida’s Shrimp Ukoy served with house-made banana ketchup, Singson’s Albacore Tuna Bistek, and the Kulinarya family’s flying tilapia with escabeche sauce.

The Filipino chefs delighted diners with food that wowed both the sight and palette.

But they also added an important ingredient, conversation.

“How the Filipino culture is extremely family-oriented...even with family meals, how we eat and how we share,” said Singson.

The chefs shared fond memories of food and how their experiences shaped their cooking philosophy.

Singson was all praises for his mom’s cooking, and why he explains his food will always have Filipino flavours to it while using Canadian ingredients.

Villarosa talked about his early job at McDonald’s, and how he never really understood what being Filipino meant growing up in South Bronx. It was only as an adult when he realized he needed to understand his origin in order to see where he’s going.

Venida, for his part, shared a touching memory from one of his early days as a cook, and how it made him realize he had the power to make or break one’s evening by working in the kitchen.

With these stories, they hope kababayans take more from "kamayan" events than just sharing Filipino cuisine.

Paolo Fresnoza of the Kape Philippine Coffee social enterprise said these events can also be a venue for a talk on deeper social issues.

“To look into Philippine culture, celebration of community, as well as look into deeper issues that relate to food. Food justice, sustainability, inequality and how some people just don't have access to food,” Fresnoza said.

 As Villarosa said, “We wanna be able to leave a mark…a lot of conversation and a lot of people talking about what it takes to bring something like this together.”

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