How to Create a Boodle Fight: A Guide to This Easy but Festive Way of Entertaining
Nothing exemplifies the Filipino spirit of camaraderie and love of good food like a kamayan feast or a boodle fight. As its name suggests, a boodle fight demands a gathering of diners. The fighting, however, does not mean beating up one another. Instead, the goal is to “fight” over the best space and best food available on the table.
The boodle fight originated from a military practice, where personnel gather over a table bedecked with a variety of food after a major win. The main rule: Only hands are allowed—no utensils—while eating. It can get rowdy, definitely messy, but is fun and satisfying in the end. The intention is to celebrate the fellowship—and the new bonds formed—just as much as it is to enjoy a bounty of good chow, mainly Filipino classics, by making do with what’s readily available in the current environment (and economy, really).
In recent years, the boodle fight has crossed over to other nations. Many Filipino appreciation nights in North America and Europe are celebrated with this type of eating. Some Filipino-centric restaurants in New York and Paris offer it as an introduction to Filipino dining. With this popularity, however, comes the need to pinpoint its bare necessities so that its replication can only lead to success.
A boodle fight promotes ease and convenience. Letting loose, eating with your hands, then foregoing of inhibitions. Aside from these, find below a handful of rules for the ultimate Filipino boodle fight.
1| The venue
Think: Indoors or outdoors? Garage or lawn? Ideally your venue should be spacious enough to accommodate all diners. Sure, it can be a bit cramped—that adds to the fun—but it should be well ventilated and allow for a messy end. An air-conditioned room is comfortable, but your food can get cold and dry in mere minutes. The best venue is outdooors, but make sure you’re prepared to repel flies. Tea lights help and they even add to the mood, especially at night. Consider also that your chosen space should be near the kitchen or food preparation area and a washing station.
2| The table
You need one table. That’s it. Keep everyone together, so set up one long table that can accommodate everyone. While a rectangular table is commonly used, a round one is also ideal for smaller groups—this way, everyone can see each other. The table’s height should also be considered. Some groups might prefer to stand throughout the meal, so make sure the table is high enough to prevent back aches.
3| The banana leaf
Covering your table with banana leaves immediately sets the mood for a boodle fight. This is crucial because the banana leaves function as the tablecloth, placemat, and plate. Pass them over an open flame to make them smooth and pliable, then wipe them down with a damp cloth. You’d want to place a bigger, sturdier leaf with its rib intact in the center of the table to support all your food. Smaller leaves, with edges trimmed, can be placed on the sides to serve as plates. You’d also want to overlap the leaves so that cleanup can be easier.
4| The rice
Freshly cooked, steaming hot, fluffy (we have a few tips on how to make the best rice of your life). Nothing is as inviting as seeing a mountain range of white rice on the table. It shouts Filipino! You can go for a more full-bodied, more-textured variety of rice or something more light and tender. But don’t go too soft that it will turn mushy when scooped up with hands. Ideally keep your rice white and avoid the garlic, fried, or colored versions so as not to overpower the viands. As for the amount of rice, a good start is one cup per person. It’s easier to add more later than put leftovers to waste.
5| The meat
The main rule when it comes to your meat is you want to keep it as dry as possible. Avoid any viand that’s soupy and saucy. Save that sinigang, tinola, and kare-kare for another time. A thick, almost dry adobo or beef steak is acceptable but make sure to place it directly over the rice so the sauce won’t seep out. Grilled and fried meats work best: inihaw na liempo, lumpiang shanghai, grilled longganisa, chicken inasal, and even a whole lechon for bigger celebrations. Make sure you’re also offering variety—not all fried, not all pork. Seafood is also a must: inihaw na bangus, grilled pusit, and hilabos na hipon. Keep the number of viands to three, or four to five for bigger groups. Make sure to serve them already sliced or chopped for easy consumption.
6| The vegetables and sides
Aside from offering balance to the meal, vegetables also add color to the boodle fight. You’d want to keep everything fresh here. Sliced tomatoes and refreshing cucumber rounds should always be present. Grilled corn and fried eggplant are also great additions. Blanched okra and ampalaya are always welcome. Something with coconut adds to the tropical vibe so a non-saucy laing or gising-gising can also be added. And of course, no boodle fight is complete without salted red eggs and sliced green mangoes.
7| The sauces
With all that dried food, sauces are a must. Ideally every guest should get their own small saucers. Alternatively, you can set up a sawsawan station and let diners concoct their own. Or the other option is to place bigger bowls of sauces in strategic locations on the table for everyone to share. But no double dipping, please! You should have the trio of soy sauce, vinegar, and patis. Bagoong and atchara should also be there. Add some calamansi, red chilies, chopped garlic, and red onions, too!
8| The dessert
What to keep in mind when it comes to boodle fight desserts is they should be handheld. And the dessert should be on the table already right from the start. Sliced fruit—pineapples, mangoes, watermelon, and papaya—are no-fail. Other Filipino delicacies that are individually wrapped like an ube-filled suman, yema, and pastillas are possible meal-enders, too. Or how about bars of ChocNut, polvoron or pili tart?
9| The drinks
Go as creative when it comes to your boodle fight beverage! Of course, fresh buko juice in the shell fits the vibe. Some fresh fruit shakes or traditional samalamig are also great to have when dining under the sun. You can offer ice-cold beer or light cocktails as options, too. But don’t forget to provide water with lots of ice. But, please, avoid serving your beverages in plastic cups. Try recycled glass bottles instead!
10 The cleanup
Ideally, the cleanup after the boodle fight should be a breeze. There shouldn’t be any food left on the table, not much wares to wash, and no linens to fold up and keep. Everything goes straight to the trash bin. To make cleanup easier, line your table with old newspapers or manila paper before laying the banana leaves. You just need to roll them up from end to end and you’re done!