Yana Gilbuena: It’s a joyful thing to be dining together. How often do we get to dine with strangers and get to know people through food by sharing and breaking bread.
Leigh Olson: This is a principle that Yana Gilbuena infuses into her every dinner party that she designs. Yana is a Filipina nomadic chef specializing in Kamayan dinners. If you’re not sure what a Kamayan dinner is, you’re probably not alone. But you are in luck. Stay tuned and Yana will explain what they are and why she is so passionate about them.
Yana Gilbuena: We go to restaurants and you always have your table, you always have your thing, you never get to interact with the other diners. And that was something that that pop up underground supper club platform provided was just a way for people to connect over food. I wanted to push it a little bit more like pushing the envelope a little bit morefor them to not only connect with other people but connect with their food and the experience of dining.
Leigh Olson: Welcome to The Heritage Cookbook Project Podcast, where we document and preserve heritage by connecting with cooks across the country who share food memories, family recipes and a little bit of themselves. And I’m your host Leigh Olson.
Yana Gilbuena: I grew up and Iloilo City, which is an island in the Philippines. I immigrated when I finished college. My mom required me to move here because otherwise the immigration process would be harder for me to get my citizenship if I was over 21 and the second reason was because I didn’t go to med school.
My mom and my dad separated really early when I was born. My grandmother urged my mom to take up nursing because during that time in the eighties there was a nursing boom here in America. Since she was going to be a single mother it was best for her to leave the Philippines and get a better job that pays well so that she can provide for me on her own. So that’s how the story started.
I was raised by my grandmother. My grandma and my aunt actually made sure I had a very good childhood.
My grandma was like, let’s go to this other island and visit our relatives over there.She made sure that I was very grounded with the family that I had.
Leigh Olson: While Yana’s family values were shaped in large part by her grandmother, her influences in the kitchen were varied; and included the effects of colonization, war, the economic impact of the 80’s and the landscape of her island home.
My aunt would collect these carnation evaporated milk recipes. And that was one of our activities is we would randomly pick a recipe and then we would cook it together.
I remember one of them was like a chicken cordon Bleu. We don’t even know how to pronounce the, the blue part and what is it even supposed to look because you had no idea. There were no pictures, just like a list of ingredients and a lot of these ingredients are not readily found in the Philippines. This was pre-Google. We’ll just go to the supermarket and I guess we can find something else that’s close to that thing.
We also had cooks and they come from the provinces versus in the city and they would bring with them like their own home cooking. It was pretty traditional. Definitely adobo, definitely tinola, flan, a lot of stews and a lot of like vegetable soups. We call them laswa. It’s basically just like a mishmash of different vegetables that we found in the market.
My other grandma also lived with us. She had her own like special recipes one of them was chicken cola. She doesn’t even tell me what’s in that recipe. I have to guess.
We were exposed to a lot of imported and canned things because of the influx of American influence after World War Two. My mother would send canned goods in the Balikbayan boxes. These boxes are like giant cargo boxes that you would fill up and it’s like a flat fee. Balik is to return and bayan means nation. So return to nation or return to your homeland.
Leigh Olson: After the break, lunch on the beach, pop-up dinners, and unapologetically Filipino foods.
I remember when I was a kid we would have a day in the beach. Always Sunday because that’s when the beach is not super crowded and we would spend a whole day there. At lunchtime you would just ask a local fishermen what fresh fish they got for the day. And then there’s a local stand basically that has like the basics, like rice and some sort of salad, which could be like a seaweed salad with some tomatoes and they would cook your lunch for you. And then they would lay out the banana leaves on that bamboo table. Then you’re just sitting there with the salt drying on your skin and you’re still feeling the ocean breeze and you’re just welcoming that, that site of like food on the table. And there’s no utensils. You just grab with your hands and eat however you like. And I remember that was one of my favorite meals because there were no rules.
My grandma was Spanish. And she was raised in this very rigid household. But when it was Sunday and we were at the beach, she would just don’t even, you know, like, no, utensils like it’s cool we can do, we can do this just a one day. And I felt like we were just letting loose on the dining table and it felt so natural and how it should be, you know.
Leigh Olson: Those easy Sunday lunches on the beach would prove an inspiration to Yana. After living in LA for a while, Yana made her way to New York City and a landed a writing gig for a local online platform… she wrote about food, restaurants and trendy food-related events… this is where she was introduced to the underground supper club and pop-up dining experiences. The concept itself reminded her of those Sunday meals that she enjoyed on the beach with her family. But there was also something was missing not only from the pop-up dining experience, but also from the local Filipino restaurants.
Yana Gilbuena: I realized quickly that it was great, but it also became a little boring. I wanted to see a more of a cultural injection. At that time no one was really doing Filipino food in that manner anyway. I knew of, you know, the mom and pop diners or restaurants in Queens where it’s like a turo turo, turo means point. So you basically point at one of the dishes and you’re just like, I want that and that other dish. And can you put it in a combo? It was that sort of like Filipino food dining experience. And there were some in the city, but I would say there were more like not in your face, Filipino, so it’s like Filipino American or like Filipino ingredients in either Italian or French form, but none that really brought me home or reminded me of home.
No one was doing Kamayan at all. I wanted to do a popup dinner, a Filipino pop up dinner served Kamayan style because a part of me wanted to celebrate that form of dining. And I’m also sort of activist slash subversive. I’ve always taken a stance that our food can stand on its own and our dining can stand on its own and it doesn’t need to get elevated. I wanted us to be proud of who we are and what we, what we grew up with.
Leigh Olson: Yana’s experience of dining on the beach and enjoying the food unimpeded by social constructs is at the very core of her dining philosophy.
Yana Gilbuena: I’ve always felt like dining is a sensual experience.You see it, you smell it, you taste it, you hear it, you know what’s lacking is that sense of touch and we have the most sensitivity in our fingers. Like Why not use that to enhance your dining experience and connect with your food on a different level.
I wanted to kind of undo that very western way of thinking with my diners. In just challenging them to think outside of the box. So is it still dining, if we don’t have plates, is it still dining, if we don’t have utensils. Can this still be called dinner?
Leigh Olson: What? Dinner with no utensils. We’re now at the core of the Kamayan Dinner. And I don’t know about you, by my inner child is loving this idea. The idea of experiencing the food with every sense, this idea that we are all equals at the table, this idea that we are all enjoying the food and the experience as a community.
So the Kamayan Feasts. Everything is always served in the middle and everything is communal. You serve yourself with your non-dominant hand and you eat with your dominant hand.
Yana Gilbuena: I serve them their first course, wait for them to finish that serve them their second course and third course. And I tried to do like an intermezzo before um a dessert, which is mostly I do like a tsokolate.
It’s a drinking chocolate and it’s something that I really enjoyed when I was a kid. We had chocolates and we would call it tablea because they would come in in blocks and it’s just ground up chocolate with some sugar and it’s bitter with a hint of sweet.
Chocolate was something that was not native to the Philippines. It was something that was brought over during the galleon trade.
If you were nobility or you know, somewhere in that, you know, rank, um, you were serve tsokolate eh tsokolate especil, which means it’s just like pure chocolate with cream, like very rich, you know. But if we were seen as someone at a lower rank or they deem you lower in society, whatever it is, they would serve you tsokolate ah, which means tsokolate aguado which is watered down chocolate. Sneaky, sneaky. And I, I’ve always wanted to like share that little tidbit to my diners because I want them to learn not just about the food but the history of the food and like how we even developed Filipino cuisine to begin with.
Yana Gilbuena: I hope that at the end of the experience they not only learned Filipino food. Got to Appreciate, appreciated in a different manner. And also learn something more about Filipino history.
Leigh Olson: Yana’s desire to educate her diners about Filipino foods and history is paired with her dedication to demonstrate to her fellow Filipinos that their culture and foods are worth celebrating.
Yana Gilbuena: The Philippines has been colonized, and sorry to say this, but fucked over so many times that I felt we’ve lost a little bit of who we really are.
It’s very heartbreaking to meet people who don’t even want to claim their heritage. I want our food to reflect that, to be unapologetically Filipino. Bring on that stinky fermented shrimp, bring on that, fermented fish, just bring everything like that blood stew. Bring the balut. Bring it and own it. Don’t forget who you are it’s what makes you, you and I want us to celebrate it. For me that way of celebration is through my Kamayan dinners.
Leigh Olson: I hope that you enjoyed Yana’s story about Kamayan Dinners and celebrating heritage through food. If you want to hear more stories like this, please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
To see some amazing images of Yana’s Kamayan Feasts and get one of the recipes that she prepares for her dinners, or to purchase Yana’s cookbook, please visit theheritagecookbookproject.com.
The Heritage Cookbook Project Podcast was produced and edited by me, I’m Leigh Olson.
I’ll be back in two weeks with the second episode celebrating Filipino American History Month – Spanish-Style Filipino Cocido . Until then, thank you so much for listening and make sure to celebrate your culinary heritage by enjoying one of your family recipes.
EPISODE 12: Kamayan Feasts aka No Forks Given
Possessing a cuisine that includes stinky, fermented foods, fertilized duck eggs, and blood stews can make transitions to another culture difficult. But Yana Gilbuena doesn’t shy away from her cultural foods. As a matter for fact, she introduces them to people unapologetically and passionately through her Kamayan Feasts.
Listen as Yana shares some of her favorite childhood food memories, the inspiration behind her pop-up Kamayan Feasts, and her call to honor and celebrate heritage and culture.
Thank you to our Sponsor Bob’s Red Mill for keeping my pantry full of fabulous flours and baking products!
Mentioned in this episode:
Yana’s Book No Forks Given
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- 1 ½ pound salmon filleted and cubed ½” x ½”
- ½ bottle tamarind concentrate 7 oz total
- 1 tablespoon citric acid or 1⁄2 of the sinigang mix pack
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon calamansi juice
- 3 Thai chilies
- 3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon coarse ground black pepper
- 1 medium red onion brunoise
- 1 medium ginger knob finely diced
- 3 pieces kaffir lime leaves chiffonade (optional)
- 3 long green peppers roasted and diced
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes halved
- 2 tablespoons chili oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Finishing salt
- 1 scallion stalk sliced on a bias, chop bottoms for poke
- 2 teaspoons toasted black sesame seeds
- 1 pack rice vermicelli 8 pieces
- 3 cups canola oil
- 1 tablespoon toasted pinipig or toasted rice
- In a bowl, mix the cherry tomatoes, chili oil and salt. Set aside.
- In a bowl, mix tamarind concentrate, citric acid (or sinigang mix), fish sauce, calamansi juice, Thai chilies and ground black pepper. Set aside.
- In a separate non-reactive bowl, combine salmon and toasted sesame oil. Add ginger and kaffir lime leaves. Mix well and wet aside in fridge for 20 to 30 mins to chill.
- In a small pot, heat oil until 350°F-375°F (using your thermometer). Add the rice vermicelli and let bloom. As soon as it expands, fish out and set aside on a pan lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil.
- Remove the chilled salmon from the fridge and massage in the tamarind mixture. Let sit for 3 to 5 minutes. Drain the liquid and add scallion bottoms, onions and green peppers. Add the cherry tomatoes. Fold in well.
- Serve sinigang poke in the rice vermicelli nest and dust with finishing salt, black sesame seeds, pinipig and scallions.
You can add roasted beets or mangoes/dragon fruit into your poke, depending on their seasonality. You can also use tuna or a hearty white fish, like halibut. If you want to make it vegan, substitute fish sauce for coconut aminos, and use beefsteak tomatoes, beets, mushrooms or roasted eggplants.