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Forget the Forks: Digging Into Filipino Flavors at Mesa Kamayan Dinner

Tayo's Kamayan dinner at Fuerza Local Community Kitchen in Mesa features chicken adobo, lechon kawali, longganisa, and other Filipino foods.EXPAND
Tayo's Kamayan dinner at Fuerza Local Community Kitchen in Mesa features chicken adobo, lechon kawali, longganisa, and other Filipino foods.
Kris Vera-Phillips
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Diners in Mesa circled mounds of pork, chicken, shrimp, and rice piled on top of banana leaves, trying to frame the perfect photo for Instagram and other social media feeds. Then, they prepared to dig into a meal with no utensils or plates. This was all part of the Filipino pop-up Tayo and its first Kamayan dinner at the Fuerza Local Community Kitchen this past Saturday night, October 5.

Kamayan is a Tagalog word meaning “using your hands.” In the Philippines, a Kamayan feast celebrates special occasions, from baptisms to anniversaries. In the United States, these meals help introduce people to Filipino culture, where everyone bonds over the experience of eating without utensils.

“It’s fun to get your hands messy,” Tayo diner Nina Chen says.

She picked through tender pieces of chicken adobo, braised in soy sauce, garlic, and vinegar. Other diners nibbled on juicy Filipino barbecue pork ribs and sweet purple ube puto — a.k.a. Filipino rice cakes — topped with coconut. The lechon kawali was a crowd favorite with its crispy pork skin and fatty meat.

“We tried a little bit of everything,” Tina Nguyen, another Tayo diner, says. “I really liked the lechon. I think the skin was so crispy. I liked how it stayed crispy the entire night.”

Tayo's first Kamayan dinner in Mesa was a sold-out event Saturday.EXPAND
Tayo's first Kamayan dinner in Mesa was a sold-out event Saturday.
Francis Lazaro

Tayo founder Edward Lazaro moved to Phoenix from Omaha, Nebraska, just this past summer. He says he left his job designing apps because he loved cooking, and wanted to spread his love for Filipino food through Kamayan dinners.

“This is one way Filipino cuisine can stand out from other Asian cuisines,” Lazaro says. “So you’re seeing the food, you're smelling the food, you're tasting the food, and you're also feeling the food. I think it helps connect you with your food at a more intimate level.”

From munching on plumb links of longganisa, or sweet Filipino sausage, to twisting off heads from Halabos na Hipon shrimp and sucking out the briny innards, Tayo’s Kamayan dinner was an epic affair that left everyone with full bellies, stuffed takeout boxes, and an appetite for more.

“I know that in a setting like this, people who prepare the food definitely take a lot of pride in what they do,” says Tayo diner Gage Lee. “So I was expecting them to put their honest, hard work into the food. I was rather impressed. This is phenomenal.”

Tayo's next Kamayan feast has not yet been scheduled. For more information, visit the Tayo website.

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