Wednesday after work I headed down to meet my friend Renée at her job to geocache and then go to Jeepney for my first Kamayan night. She invited me to join her and 10 of her coworkers to "Asian night." Renée is half Filipino and a couple of her coworkers are Filipino as well. But tonight I was an honorary Pinoy!
The Filipino Kamayan feast, from what my Filipino friends have told me, is usually done for special occasions. These feasts always consist of different varieties of food, but it is always spread out on large banana leaves and served family style using your hands only, no utensils. Definitely vinegar and garlic rice are involved no matter what the protein selections are.
Jeepney, located at 201 First Avenue, has Kamayan night only on Wednesdays and you must make a reservation with your selection of feast you will have that night. Unfortunately I did not set the reservation up, so I don't have any information about the menu selections, and they are not listed online. When you arrive you can tell the host to begin setting up your table, which takes a minimum of 20 minutes for them to set out all of the food.
There is a bar right in front, so while you wait you can enjoy a delicious drink. I had the Sabang Beach Cooler. If you know me, I am not a drinker, but I downed this! I was definitely drunk after, but it just tasted so damn good. It was the chipotle-salted rim that got me, for sure. The drink is made with Gracias a Dios Mezcal, calamansi (a small citrus fruit), honey, lemon and a smoked chipotle-salted rim. Delicious! There is also Mancala on the bar, which I love! But they don't have enough shells to actually play :(
I got a sneak peek of the guys setting up our table. They start by laying out the banana leaves, using blow torches to warm and soften them in order for them to lay perfectly flat. Then they start shaping the rice along the table. All the vegetables and proteins are then beautifully displayed along and on top of the rice. Our meal consisted of mussels, shrimp, cucumber and tomato salad, caramelized bananas, roasted chicken, ribs and a stew of pork roasted in beef blood served with toasted rice-bread pieces. When it's all laid out, they take the torch and run it along the top of everything to slightly warm and char it all.
Once you're seated, the waiter brings you warm-ish wet towels to wipe off your hands and then goes over what is in front of you. One thing he recommended I do is to combine the chicken with the caramelized banana. Yum. He also described the way you eat it: grab a bit of rice, press it into a ball and eat it with whatever you want and a bit of vinegar with it. My favorite thing was the ribs -- amazing.
There are different food combinations that you can select for your feast at Jeepney. I saw another table being set up for a fried chicken one, but the one that caught my eye was the whole fish one with bok choy. I must try this next time! It looked SO good.
One of the great things about this place is you are given so much food there is no way you can leave hungry, but if there are leftovers they happily give you containers and large spoons to make leftovers to-go. I was so used to eating with my hands, and also tipsy, that I forgot what a spoon was and asked for a "large thing" to scoop up the leftovers with, whilst I was using a large mussel shell to do the job in the interim.
When you're done eating and packing up, the staff just takes the banana leaves and rolls them up like a burrito and voila, the table is cleared and clean!
AND then dessert! Halo-halo is shaved ice covered in coconut milk, coconut gelatin, purple ube (purple yam) ice cream (my fave!!), housemade flan, a little red bean and lots of fruit-flavored, colorful jellies. When eating this, you scoop up from the bottom to mix all the goodness together so you get some in each bite.
Now the food here was not the best Filipino food I've had (I suggest going to Jersey City for that) and it was pretty overpriced, but it was definitely worth the experience, in my opinion. The way the place is decorated is an experience you have to have for yourself. I especially loved the group I was with and I hope I'm invited to the next Asian dinner!
For more info, contact them by phone at (212) 533-4121 or check out their website at http://www.jeepneyfilipino.com. Unfortunately there is no info on their site about Kamayan night, but I can tell you it is only on Wednesdays and is pretty great!
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