The Bureau chief, Matt Cowan, wrote about a nice dinner he had recently, and since it was a formal one, I bet there was a lot of cutlery involved.

I, too, had a nice dinner myself a couple of nights ago, but it was pretty informal. In fact, it was so casual, we didn’t even have any spoons, forks, and knives. My dinner companions and I used our hands to eat, Filipino-style.

Our dinner at the Cebu Parklane International Hotel was called a “boodle fight” and it’s based on a tradition practiced by the students and instructors at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), as well as members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The boodle fight is a meal of rice and several viands laid out on banana leaves, and cadets and soldiers eat shoulder-to-shoulder with instructors or higher ranking military officers. The meal is eaten with your hands, and is meant to instil camaraderie among diners.

During a boodle fight, cadet, soldier, and officer alike are allowed to fight over the choice morsels of food without any fear of sanction by the higher-ranked person; everyone is equal during a boodle fight, and it’s every man for himself.

The phrase came about from American military slang – “boodle” – meaning contraband items, such as cake, candy, or ice cream which military personnel would barter for or even fight over, since these were much-desired items during deployment.

While this custom traces its roots to the Philippine military, the boodle fight has over the past few years become popular with civilians.

Dining establishments have been coming out with their own versions of the boodle fight, and what started out as a simple meal of rice and a few pieces of fish or meat for the viand has evolved into a feast of sorts.

The kinds of viands run the gamut from grilled chicken to stewed pork to grilled seafood spread over a bed of steaming hot white rice.

Parklane International Hotel’s Kan-anan Restaurant offers the “Boodle Blowout” which is a leveled-up version of the boodle fight.

Priced at around PhP 2,000.00 (around US$ 40,00 plus tax), the Boodle Blowout gives you grilled rabbitfish, grilled squid stuffed with tomatoes and onions, kilawin, pork barbecue, grilled chicken, humba, salted eggs, Cebu chorizo, clams, clam soup, grilled tomatoes, and guso. Each order comes with all-you-can-eat rice and a pitcher of iced tea.

Notable among the dishes was humba, a pork stew very similar to the Chinese pata tim or hong ba. Tasting somewhere between sweet and savoury, the humba (which is a specialty of the town of Ronda in Cebu province) was perfectly cooked, with the pork very tender and easily falling apart, almost melting in your mouth.

Kilawin, or kinilaw, is the Filipino version of ceviche. Tanguigue, the fish of choice among most cooks, is then mixed with chopped onions, tomatoes, and pepper, and finally drowned in cane or coconut vinegar. Guso, on the other hand is a kind of seaweed popular among Cebuano diners.

I was able to talk to Parklane’s Chef de Cuisine June Fernandez, who came up with the idea of the Boodle Blowout.

According to him, he wanted Parklane International Hotel’s version of the boodle fight to reflect Cebu’s culinary heritage, hence his choice of humba, Cebu chorizo, squid, and rabbitfish.

“Cebu is an island,” Chef June said, “so of course we have to show off that fresh seafood is the norm here.” He then added: “I also included pork barbecue and chicken grilled Cebuano-style to show the variety of dishes Cebuanos love.”

Kan-anan’s Boodle Blowout has enough food for five people, so I invited some of my co-workers from the MINI Cooper works in A.S. Fortuna St. to help me out with the eating duties.

Instead of standing up in front of the table as tradition dictates, we all sat down to eat, eating off plates woven from bamboo and lined with banana leaf.

Still, the customary fighting over the viands was preserved, with me and Service Technicians Marco and Kenneth scrambling for the last piece of chicken.

While the boodle fight, with its “non-rule” of “Look Ma, no hands!”, may not be as elegant as Matt Cowan’s six-course dinner, it is no less enjoyable.

In fact, people might find it a welcome change to dine with no rules, and no cutlery, in sight.

How about it, Matt?

Words by Jigs Arquiza

All photos by Jigs Arquiza except for featured photo from Cebu Parklane International Hotel Facebook Page

Jigs Arquiza is a journalist-turned-mechanic who lives on the island of Cebu, Philippines. He’s been cooking since he was 12 years old, but refuses to go professional because he doesn’t want to get into arguments about how authentic his food is. You can follow him on Instagram at @eatssogood

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