It was one of the best dining experiences of my life. No, it was not in some classy hotel or in an expensive resto.
It was in open air at an economical beach resort in Batangas.
No, there were no fancy plates, utensils and satin napkins.
All we had to use were our very own bare hands washed in sea water wiped dry on our swimming shorts.
Before us was a long table, laid with banana leaves. The steaming rice spread in the middle and on both sides were a variety of viands – broiled tilapia stuffed with tomatoes and onions, boiled leafy vegetables and eggplants, bagoong alamang (shrimp paste), and the specialty of our friend’s brother-in-law, ginataang pabo (turkey cooked in spicy coconut milk). Just thinking of it makes my mouth water over and over again.
We took our places on the benches, and after saying grace, someone barked the command, “attack!” And we did grab and gobble up all the food in our nearest vicinity. The lapping waves and wind blowing on our face seemed to prod us on to eat to our hearts’ delight. What made it more fun was the happy chats and laughter.
I never thought there was a name for this kind of meal until another chum told me about it. Peace and order was his news beat, but one battle he would readily take on anytime is the boodle fight. Boodle literally means a crowd of people or a slang term for money (from the Dutch word “boedel”).
Although anyone would be glad to take on all the money he can get over a free meal, this is not what a boodle fight is all about. It is actually a tradition in the Philippine military where crowds of combatants gather in one place and feast on different kinds of food openly spread on banana leaves.
One soldier shares, “a boodle fight is a symbol of brotherhood and equality among Filipino military by sharing the same food without regard to rank.”
Another graduate of the Philippine Military Academy explains that a boodle fight is a “symbol of camaraderie, brotherhood and equality in the Armed Forces. The “fight” part refers to the fact that it is everyman for himself during these feasts. This means you grab and eat as much as you can before the food runs out or else go hungry because everyone else is gorging away.”
Former President Joseph Estrada actually understands the bond being created through boodle fights. He joined government troops in February 2010 to boost morale among the ranks in their campaign against rebel forces in Mindanao.
He brought it to the civilian level when he became Manila Mayor. In one event of the socio-civic group Kabalikat ng Masa, he joined the new officers in a boodle fight after the simple oath-taking ceremonies.
This outdoor food fracas can be easily done with friends and family. Just spread long tables outdoors and cover them with banana leaves. Members can contribute their very own special dishes. Place the food on top of the banana leaves. Viands and rice are ready to eat using bare hands. Prepare jugs of water nearby for washing hands before the banquet battle. At the signal to start, everyone secures his/her territory and claims the luscious loot beforehand.
Eating is fun but more enjoyable the boodle way. It helps drop one’s defences with the usual table manners done away with and consciousness of rank and social standing forgotten. This may be dubbed as a fight but in truth, it may be an instrument of peace and love as relationships are forged through the common experience.
Michael Pollan, author of “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” rationalizes, “the shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fuelling the body to a ritual of family and community, from the mere animal biology to an act of culture.”
It has been a long time since my first boodle fight but it still brings up warm memories and a nice feeling in the tummy. As for my fellow boodle fighters, our friendship goes ever deeper as we continue to share meals and the ups and downs in life. It is like manna from heaven.
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