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Eat With Your Hands At Villa Manila’s Kamayan Dinners

After Covid, I’m still a little squeamish about hitting a buffet with a hundred sneezing strangers, but I’m definitely ready for the resurgence of kamayan Thursday nights at National City’s Villa Manila (which is, naturally, in a strip mall). Kayaman, a precolonial Filipino method of eating with your hands, “is a great experience because it promotes community and togetherness,” says James Camanyag, PR marketing director at Villa Manila. Large banana leaves line the table, upon which communal dishes are dumped and devoured without utensils or pretension. It’s not a public buffet—just a way to eat favorites like adobo, daing na bangus (fried milkfish),

lumpia, lechon kawali (pork belly), and more with friends and family. I like to make small rice balls with my right hand, add a bite of tender meat to it with my left, nom, and repeat. That’s the beauty of kamayan: there’s no wrong way to dig in.

Understandably, the practice took a significant hit during the pandemic, but that’s not the first time kamayan has come under attack. “The practice was tolerated during the Spanish period, but it was suppressed during the American Colonial Period when American dining etiquette and the use of spoons and

forks were aggressively promoted,” explains Camanyag. Today, Villa Manila’s kamayan experience is the only one in San Diego that’s regularly available with a reservation. The food is always amazing, but there’s just something about eating with your hands that makes it taste that much better.

Camanyag says first-timers are always welcome, recommending dishes like the spicy bicol express (stewed pork in coconut milk and shrimp paste with jalapeno), kare-kare (a thick peanut stew cooked with oxtail, tripe, beef shank, and more), Shanghai lumpia (Chinese- Filipino fusion pork egg rolls), or the “Sizzling Sisig” (crunchy pork belly and pork ears served on a sizzling plate, fajita-style). Come with clean hands, an empty belly, and a few friends.

By Beth Demmon

Beth Demmon is an award-winning writer and podcaster whose work regularly appears in national outlets and San Diego Magazine. Her first book, The Beer Lover's Guide to Cider, is now available. Find out more on

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