I don’t remember the last time I only ate with my hands. I mean, not just using hands to eat food like ribs. I’m talking about no use of spoons, forks or knives and just shoveling the entirety of your meal with your two God given fists. A kamayan meal (which translates directly to “with hands” in the Taglog language) embodies this primal method of eating. It is a Filipino culinary experience that is served communal style- a colorful array of rice, veggies, seafood, and meat spread across the table on a layer of bright, green banana leaves.
Before the Spanish colonization and US occupancy of the Philippines, eating with their hands was the customary way for the indigenous inhabitants. Natives were later pressured to abandon their “uncivilized” ways and adopt the Western method of using utensils to eat. In present day, Filipinos seek to bring back their former traditions and eat kamayan feasts during large celebrations to pay homage to their cultural history.
MFK stands for Modern Filipino Kitchen and is located in Anaheim, CA. It is ran by Chef Henry Pineda who is a descendant of the Aysee restaurant chain in the Philippines. Pineda is part of the new generation of Filipino-American chefs that hopes to bring back the traditional flavors of Filipino food while bringing a refreshing, new aesthetic look to their culinary creations.
T H E R E S E R V A T I O N
All kamayan meals at MFK must have reservations and must be booked 72 hours in advance. Unfortunately for our wallets, the dinner does not come cheap and is priced at $44 per adult and $20 per child. The reason for this hefty price tag might be because they are the only brick and mortar that offers the kamayan service in the OC area. I was able to find a few catering companies in the LA area (like Edna’s Filipino Cuisine in Long Beach) that serve kamayan meals, but none are as aesthetically beautiful and enticing as MFK’s.
Customers who place a reservation are asked to pick 6 protein options out of a long list of choices. It does not matter how big your party is, a reservation made together is limited to only 6 options. Perhaps a workaround is to have your party create separate reservations, but note that the restaurant can only hold roughly 3 large kamayan parties of ~10. There may potentially be risk of not being able to be seated all together. I suggest calling and asking beforehand.
Here are all the food options below:
- Chicken Inasal
- Lechon Kawali (deep fried pork belly)
- Chicken BBQ
- Longanisa (filipino sausage)
- Tocino (sweet garlic pork)
- Grilled Liempo (grilled pork belly)
- Hipon (sauteed shrimp)
- Dilis (crispy mini anchovies)
- Fried Calamari
- Tahong (mussels)
- Whole Fried Fish
- Manila Clams
- Chicken Adobo
- Pork Belly Adobo
- Itlog Na
- Maalat (Filipino salted egg)
Besides the selected protein, additions to the meal include ensaldang kamatis (tomato pico de gallo), lumpia (Filipino eggrolls pork or vegetarian), seasonal fruit (mango and oranges for ours), garlic frito crumble, and of course, white rice.
The website does not state whether there is a limit on the number of people that can participate, but we have seen parties go up to as big as 32 people. You also don’t need a large number of people and can feast with only 2 people. For me, I figured the more the merrier and invited 8 other people to come along this foodie journey of mine.
T H E P R E P A R A T I O N
We arrived a little earlier than the appointed time and found rows of tables already topped with pieces of banana leaf. Our table was partially set up with plastic cups and small containers of sauce in front of each seat.
Every meal comes with a plastic cup and unlimited drinks. The drinks included regular fountain soda or pours of their famous ube horchata. For those of you who do not know, ube is a purple yam and a popular ingredient in Filipino dessert. Some of my friends opted for the soda fountain first and waited till the end of the meal before getting their own cup of ube horchata. The drink is very creamy and filling which was why majority of my friends waited till the end. I, on the other hand, wanted to get as many refills of this delicious drink as I could and started from the beginning!
Note for all the adults: MFK does not serve alcohol. Fortunately for those who are looking for more intoxicating beverages, there seems to be an unspoken BYOB option. It was not stated anywhere online or in their store, but the group following us were spotted bringing their own beer. I was also able to find some YouTube videos that showcased the same. Wish we knew about this beforehand because right next door to the restaurant was a convenience store that coincidentally has a small selection of liquor.
At the start of the meal, everyone was given 3 sauces. Starting from left to right:
- Suka-Spiced Vinegar: Cane vinegar from the Philippines with birds eye chili, red onions, and garlic. This was the one I used for the seafood.
- Lechon Sauce-Aka Mang Thomas: Sweet vinegar with brown sugar and black pepper. This sauce was intended for the pork.
- Sweet Chili Sauce: White sugar, vinegar, pickled red chili and garlic. This sauce was mostly used for the lumpia (eggrolls).
The meal could not start until the everyone in the group arrived. I was glad they were not too strict on punctuality because my friends can be laggers sometimes. Luckily, the staff was really friendly and told us to notify them when our entire party was there.
Once we were ready to begin our feast, out of the kitchen comes a giant cart of steaming goodies! One side of our table was told to stand up and make room for the preparation. Being the awkward turtles we were, the entirety of the group decided to stand up and allow the chef more space to set up as he pleased.
Watching him set up the meal was part of the fun! He started with the meats and slowly worked his way to the veggies and seafood. It took about 15 minutes for him to completely set up.
The chef was so nice and friendly. He was happy to answer any questions we had and was a good sport about the many pictures we took of him during the set up process!
T H E M E A L
Picking our 6 protein options was a pretty difficult task for a group of 9. We ended up having to create an online poll (you can find a free online one here) and picked the 6 most popular. Here were our winning options:
- Chicken inasal
- Whole fried fish
- Longanisa (Filipino sausage)
- Manila clams
- Hipon (sauteed shrimp)
- Lechon kawali (deep fried pork belly)
The most popular favorite dish among my friends was the longanisa (Filipino sweet sausage). Unfortunately, because I am a “non pork-atarian”, I was unable to eat any of the pork dishes so I cannot speak to the flavors of those dishes. More seafood for me! I enjoyed the flavoring of the shrimp and clams a lot. The shrimp option included additional string beans in their sauce that was sooooo finger lickin’ good!
My favorite dish of the night was the whole fried fish! This fish is bangús, the national fish of the Philippines and is most commonly known as milkfish. We received 3 whole fish for our party of 9. Those on my side of the table were the lucky ones and got the fresh fried fish fresh out of the kitchen. It was still dripping in oil and steaming hot from the fryer. The skin on the outside was crunchy, crispy while the inside was remained fatty and soft.
My least favorite of our picks was the chicken inasal. Chicken inasal is roasted chicken, marinated in a mixture of Calamansi. The biggest reason why it was my least favorite is because by the time the meal was set up, the chicken had gotten a little cold and was not as flavorful. However, the group and I agreed that chicken was needed. We would have had too many fried options or too much pork otherwise. The chicken offered a good balance.
L A F I N
Squad up cannot have a truer meaning than gathering with your good friends to devour a kamayan feast. Having one unified goal to extinguish the mounds of rice and meat somehow gave us all a sense of camaraderie. While the price tag for this experience is no chump change, I have no regrets having tried my first kamayan experience at MFK. I can even see myself trying it again once or twice if other friends wanted to give their kamayan experience a try. Regardless of whether we eat their feast again or not, Chef Pineda did an amazing job curating a sweet and savory feast fit for kings. Perhaps the hubby and I will come back and try their individual bowls, but I don’t think we would be jumping for the opportunity to have a kamayan feast just for the two of us.
MFK by Aysee
RSVP at: https://www.mfkaysee.com/kamayan-reservations/