Story by Becky Speere | Photos by Mieko Horikoshi
Tonight’s kamayan dinner, Star Noodle’s second one in as many weeks, is a much-anticipated Filipino feast for twenty-four lucky guests. Announced via social media, the dinner sold out within minutes, and several of the respondents are Maui chefs themselves. I wonder whether I was crazy to make reservations, considering that dinner will start at 8:30 p.m., which is . . . ahem . . . my usual bedtime. Plus, we live on the north shore, more than an hour’s drive from Lahaina. But for the chance to taste the traditional Filipino recipes Chef Abby Rodas-Ferrer inherited from her mother (and enhanced with her own embellishments), husband Chris and I forgo our asleep-with-the-chickens schedule to eat with our fingers (no silverware allowed!) from a banana-leaf-covered communal table.
Kamayan, if you haven’t guessed, is a traditional Filipino feast that’s meant to be eaten with your hands. (Kamay means “hands” in Tagalog.) Its addition to Star Noodle’s award-winning island menu is an opportunity too fun to pass up.
We arrive at the restaurant thirty minutes early, envisioning ourselves enjoying a pre-dinner cocktail, but find there’s a one-hour wait for a seat at the bar, and all the tables are taken. So I peek into the kitchen to check on the chef. She’s in full form. Chef Abby is fixed in a trancelike concentration as she gently submerges softball-sized vegetable-shrimp fritters into hot oil that bubbles angrily at her wrists while she calmly turns them with metal tongs.
“Hi, Chef!” I call out. “How’s the prep going?” She looks up and breaks into a smile. “Yup, we’re getting ready. Almost done with this and a few more things to wrap up. I hope you’re hungry! There’s going to be a lot of food.”
The kamayan hour arrives, and we find seats next to friends: Chef Jojo Vasquez, of Maui Brewing Company; Alvin Savella, the ‘Aipono Awards’ 2018 Chef of the Year (and chef de cuisine at the Grand Wailea Resort’s Humuhumu); and Chef de Partie Tanya Kaina Doyle of The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua. Joining in the degustation is Jojo’s wife, Eliza, rock-star deejay of Beats & Eats, Maui Brewing’s once-a-month pau hana combining soulful food and music. Soon servers parade into the dining room, bearing six of Abby’s handmade wooden platters piled high and wide with delicacies from her Austronesian food culture.
Fellow Filipino Jojo shows us the technique of dining kamayan style, using three fingers of the right hand to pinch sticky rice together with a piece of inihaw na baboy (marinated barbecued pork), fried crispy pata (souvide and deep-fried pork trotters), ukoy (shrimp and sweet-potato fritters), or ginataang hipon (shrimp simmered in coconut milk and chiles). Our favorite, lumpiang Shanghai, gets a dip in the sweet-and-sour sauce. Its pork-and-vegetables filling is wrapped and fried in the thinnest, lightest crêpe; each bite is a delightful savory crunch. Complementing the dishes are atchara (piquant pickled green papaya) and kamatis, sibuyas, mustasa and itlog na maalat (tomato, onion, pickled mustard greens and salted duck egg). Small bowls of sawsawan—a bright and acidic sugarcane vinegar and a garlic soy-vinegar dip—add another layer of flavor to the rich meal, while also providing a palate-cleansing digestif.
Chef Abby joined Star Noodle in April 2017. With two years under her apron belt, “I wanted to change it up a bit, so I decided to do a family-dining experience from my childhood. All these recipes are my mother’s; she owned a Filipino import store and takeout food counter in New York. Although I received a BS in hospitality and management at University of Boston in Massachusetts, and trained in classical French cuisine at Peter Kump’s School in Manhattan [now The French Culinary Institute], when I set out to do a kamayan, it was personal. I thought I was fulfilling my own cultural needs, but what surprised me the most was that the Filipino chefs in the kitchen here felt the same pride in sharing the cuisine of their ancestors. It brought us closer as a team.”
After desserts of ube (sweet potato) ice cream sandwiches and turon (apple banana and jackfruit eggrolls), we hit the “I give up!” button. Abby shares, “I have plans for an all-seafood kamayan and also a vegetarian kamayan soon.”
Mmm-mm. We can’t wait! And neither should you—stay in touch with Star Noodle’s Instagram site, @star.noodle.