In Filipino culture, the word kamayan means to eat with your hands, which stems from the Tagalog word kamay meaning hands. I tried my first kamayan meal at a small restaurant called Tinuno on a sleepy side street near Bloor and Sherbourne. What started as a Filipino grocer and take-out spot, owners Cathy Ortega and Gerald Quinte began offering kamayan dinners to best showcase traditional flavours through a unique experience. As a reflection of the menu, the word Tinuno itself refers to food that is cooked by direct or extreme heat; on a grill or over a fire. Also worth mentioning is that the kamayan set menu is available per person at only $15!
A kamayan feast features tables covered with banana leaves which are directly topped with a generous amount of food. The way the food is presented originates from the Filipino army and their Boodle Fight way of eating. Long mess hall tables would be lined with banana leaves and topped with heaps of food to quickly feed a crowd of people. The sharing and eating of the food with the hands represented brotherhood, camaraderie and equality between soldiers. Boodle was a word used for contraband/sweets and fight referred to the hungry soldiers grabbing and “fighting” for the food on the table.
A kamayan feast for two.
At Tinuno, a garlic long grain rice is placed on the leaves first and then topped with grilled pork, bangus (milkfish), whole tilapia and squid as well as a few mussels and shrimp. Off to the side there was also grilled Japanese eggplant and okra, mango salad and a few orange slices. For my table of two, my meal arrived already presented on a board and didn’t quite have the same theatrical presentation as larger groups. I didn’t really mind since it looked beautiful either way. On every table there were four bottles of different sauces for diners to help themselves to: soy, sriracha, fish sauce and garlic vinegar (my favourite). Disposable gloves were provided although traditionally bare hands would have been the way to do it.
The food was very lightly seasoned (except for the pork skewer) so it’s really meant to be eaten with the condiments. It was fun playing around with the sauces and forming different bites. My favourite items were the grilled slices of fatty pork and the bangus. The fish tasted especially good with the vinegar and I liked dipping my okra with a bit of soy. The freshness of the mango salad acted like a palette cleanser, cutting through all the rich foods. My least favourite were probably the mussels and shrimp which were overcooked and not as warm as the rest of the food, but only a minor fault considering how inexpensive the whole meal was.
The restaurant itself was a very small no frills type of place but had a small patio in the front for warmer weather. I highly recommend making reservations beforehand as it was crazy busy during dinner service. I had to call more than once before I was able to make my reservation and found calling in the morning was the best time. For weekends especially, I would call on the day of to confirm your reservation just in case because I sat close to the entrance and noticed several people had made reservations but they had no record of it (mine included). While I wished the reservation process was easier, I really enjoyed the interactive food experience and I would recommend trying Tinuno out!
31 Howard St. Toronto, ON M4X 1J6
(647) 343 – 9294