The River Herring are a group of fish that are similar to salmon, they travel between freshwater and saltwater throughout their lives. Given their namesake perhaps you would assume the RIVER herring spend most of their lives in rivers but you would be WRONG! These so-called ‘River’ Herring actually spend most of their lives in the ocean.
The term River Herring refers to two closely related species, the alewife (scientific name: Alosa pseudoharengus) and the blueback herring (scientific name: Alosa aestivalis). These fish have a wide range that extends along almost the entire eastern seaboard of North America. They’re grouped together as the river herring because they have a very similar life history and are quite difficult to tell apart.
So why are these fish called RIVER herring if they live in the ocean?!
It’s likely that early North Americans primarily interacted with river herring when they migrated into coastal estuaries, rivers, and streams during their annual spawning run. River herring migrate into freshwater from the sea in the springtime when the water gets warm. Back when river herring were abundant, personal accounts documenting their spawning runs described the rivers as teeming with billions of fish. Early North Americans would take advantage of the predictability of this spawning run to catch and preserve fish. This stock of food was incredibly important and a strong harvest meant survival through the long and cold northeastern winters.
What are some other names for river herring?
Since these fish live anywhere from rivers in Canada to streams in Florida, they’ve been called a lot of different names: bigeye herring, branch herring, freshwater herring, gaspereau, grayback, gray herring, kyak, sawbelly, white herring, buckie, and buckey (Narrow River Preservation Association). While the origin of some of these names is based on what this fish looks like, or where they were found, others have more interesting or even mysterious origins!
“Gaspereau, or Gasparot. Name of a common salt-water fish of Acadia (also called alewife), first used, so far as I can find, by Denys in 1672. Nowhere can I find any clue to its origin. It seems not to be [indigenous].”
W.F. Ganong, 1910
Sawbelly is another common name for river herring, though some sources only assigned it to the alewife. This name was likely given to the fish because of its sharp serrated underbelly (URI).
Kyak or Kiack is the word for river herring in the Mi’kmaw people’s language. The Mi’kmaw are a loose confederacy of semi-nomadic tribes across northeastern Canada. Historically, Mi’kmaw villages relied on the sea and rivers for up to 90% of their food (Mi’kmaw Spirit). They relied on the annual migration of river herring and similarly related species and would catch these fish using fish weirs. Fish weirs are a V-shaped tunnel made of wood or rock that would force the fish into a narrow passage where they could be caught with nets or baskets. Kejimkujik National Park was recognized as a National Historic Site in 2002 due to the millennia of Mi’kmaw history connected to the region.
I was unable to find information on some of the other names like buckie/buckey, perhaps this one came from “big-eye herring”?
Do you know any names for the river herring that aren’t listed here? Let us know in the comments!
“Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.”
– Flora Lewis
After my most recent Language Proficiency Interview, I started thinking about words in Bicol and Tagalog I’ve come to love. I like these words for a variety of reasons, I like how they relate to Filipino culture, I like that some of them have no direct English translation, and others have become such a part of my vocabulary I use them with Filipinos and Peace Corps Volunteers alike.
This means expensive and it’s probably the tagalog word most commonly used between Peace Corps Volunteers. No one knows when it started, but now it has become synonymous with expensive.
Example: I looked into that hostel but it’s mahal so I need to find a different option.
Lang means only or just but it’s used after the subject. So if something is only 20 pesos, it would be ‘20 pesos lang’. It’s a super easy word to just tack on to every day speech and it’s an easy way to ask for clarification.
You: Tag-pira ang pamasahae? (how much is the fare)
Me: 30 pesos
You: 30 pesos lang?
Me: Oo (yes)
This word doesn’t directly translate in English. It’s used to describe the light in your stomach, racing heart feeling. Most people have explained it to me as the way you feel when you see your crush, and I think the closest English translation would be what we call ‘having butterflies in your stomach’. Learning a new language, I’ve realized how much a language says about it’s associated culture and I believe this word is a perfect example. The Philippines loves love, and they have a lot of words to describe feelings of love that we don’t have in English.
Pronounced Ma-si-ram / Ma-sa-ra-p
The first (masiram) is Bicol and the second (masarap) is Tagalog, they both directly translate to delicious. While these words are directly used to describe the taste of food, I love these words because they’re often used to describe things other than food. They’re also used to describe when something is particularly refreshing. When a strong, cool breeze blows through on a hot day, it can be described as masarap or ‘sarap.
“‘sarap ang hangin”
Or when jumping into a cold pool on a hot day, the water can also be described as ‘masarap’
“Masarap ang tubig”
5. Ate, Kuya, Nanay
Pronounced: Ah-tay, Koo-yah, and Nah-n-aye
These words mean older sister, older brother, and mother respectively, but they’re not reserved only for those people. Ate and Kuya apply to everyone and anyone. The kids in my community call me Ate Chelsea, I call tryke drivers and jeep conductors ‘kuya’. It’s used a term to get someone’s attention but it’s more informal than ‘ma’am’. I would say the term ‘nanay’ is used more as a term of endearment. When an elder woman is getting off a jeep and has to walk crouched over to the exit, the jeep conductor might tell her ‘luway luway nanay’ (slowly, slowly, nanay). I like the use of these words because it reflects the closeness of community here. I know I will miss being called Ate Chelsea.
6. Salamat sa Dios
Pronounced: Sa-la-ma-t sah Di-o-s
The first time I heard the direct translation of this phrase was after I first met my counterpart. We took a taxi from our hotel to the bus station to go to my site for the first time. When we arrived safely at the bus station, she turned to me and said ‘Thanks God’. Since then, I’ve heard the tagalog phrase used whenever something favorable happens. For example, when the fans have been off all day because of a power outage and everyone is sweaty and uncomfortable. When the power suddenly flips back on and the fans come to life, people will sigh and say ‘Salamat sa Dios’
This is a small house lizard that I can say with confidence inhabits every home of the Philippines. They skitter across the walls chasing one another and the bugs. They are welcome house guests keeping away the mosquitos and cockroaches. Sometimes they fight with one another and make loud territorial clicking noises. When I still lived at my host family’s house, our cat had a bunch of kittens and when they were big enough they started pouncing on the butiki that skittered across the floor. One time, one of the kittens caught one by the tail and the lizard quickly detached it’s tail and took off. The tail kept wriggling and kept the kitten entertained while the butiki was able to escape! Evolution, one point; Kitten, zero.
I once accidentally confused binuton (a glutinous rice snack) with butiki and my host family still won’t let me live it down because it sounded like I said I wanted to eat lizards.
8. Palay, Bigas, Kanin, Tipo
Prounounced: Pal-aye, Bee-gas, Ka-nin, Tee-po
The Philippines has a bunch of different words for different types and conditions for rice! I like these words because it’s a reflection of how important rice is here. Are there any English words that behave this way? Something Americans use different words to describe different details or conditions of one subject that other languages would just use one word to describe? If you think of one, leave it in the comments!
Palay is unmilled rice
Bigas is milled rice
Kain is cooked rice
Tipo is burnt rice
9. Niyog, Buko, Copra, Nata de coco, Gata, Lambanog
Pronounced: Nee-y-og, Boo-ko, Ko-pra, Na-ta de ko-ko, Gaa-ta, Lam-ba-nog
What do all these words have in common? They’re all words for coconut!
Niyog is a mature coconut.
Buko is green coconut that is not yet fully ripened. At this stage the coconut contains coconut water, or buko juice. Sometimes entire coconuts are sold on the side of the road. A kuya will cut off the top so you can drink all of the buko juice. When you’re finished with the juice, they’ll cut it in half for you and fashion a spoon out of the piece they cut off the top earlier. Then you use the coconut spoon to scrape the sides of the middle for the buko meat. Buko and buko juice is one of the food items I will absolutely miss the most. The coconut water in the USA just CANNOT compare with juice from a fresh coconut!
Copra is dried coconut. Whenever things need drying they’re laid out on the sides of the road in the Philippine sun. So, it’s not uncommon to pass sections of the street covered in copra (usually there is still a narrow lane for vehicles) drying out. You can usually smell these areas before you see them because they have a pungent, somewhat sour, smell. When the copra is done drying the meat is used for coconut oil.
Nata de coco- fermented coconut water (Wikipedia) the coconut water gels together when fermented and creates a jelly that is used in buko salad, a filipino dessert.
Gata is coconut milk which you can get fresh at any filipino market, however it may not come how you expect it to. The inside of the ripe coconut is shredded and put into a bag. You use this to make coconut milk by pouring hot water over it and squeezing the pulp with your hands. Then you drain the milk from the pulp, and viola you have gata!
Lambanog has been explained to me as coconut wine, but I believe it’s closer to a spirit than a wine (EDIT: Lambanog is a distilled coconut spirit, Thanks Kenny!). It’s made of fermented sap from coconut flowers or palms and it is a strong but cheap alcohol, commonly drank in tagay circles on the beach.
This is a style of drinking where people sit in a circle with a bottle of alcohol, wine, or beer, in the middle. They then pass around one cup. The person who has the cup pours a little into the cup, finishes it, and passes it to the next person who repeats the process. In the Philippines this is primarily used to describe this method of drinking, but between my batchmates and I we use it to describe consuming almost anything in this, one serving-pass it on, fashion.
Example: Wanna tagay the last slice of pizza?
What’s your favorite word (in any language!) and why? Post it in the comments below!
For my first story let’s go back to the beginning…
The beginning of service can be A LOT. Every day is a neurological overload because, whether you notice it or not, culture completely saturates every aspect of our lives. I didn’t realize this until long after I went through the overwhelming days of culture shock. But everything we do, from your reaction to someone sneezing, the way you get someone’s attention, to your reflexive action to pick up a certain utensil to eat your breakfast with, it’s all rooted in your cultural background.
I spent every day having my reactive behaviors being picked apart. I spent the other half of the day trying to figure out the inner workings of what would be my home for the next 2+ years. On top of that, I was simultaneously trying to pick out words I recognized from the conversations occurring around me and attempting to participate without completely embarrassing myself. Some of the jokes made in those first couple weeks, I didn’t understand until a full YEAR later. Which brings me to my first story.
When you first arrive at site you have to do a bunch of ‘courtesy calls’. These are basic introductions to the important people in your new community. I did courtesy calls with my counterpart to my mayor, SB (Sangguniang Bayan), Home barangay Capitan and council, among others. During each of these, I used these basic lines of my local language:
Marhay na Aga. [Good Morning]
Ako po si Chelsea [I am Chelsea]
Peace Corps Volunteer ako [I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer]
Nagta-trabaho ako ni coastal resource management [I work in coastal resource management]
Baynte-dos anyos na ako [I’m twenty-two]
Taga-New York ako [I’m from New York]
Nakaistar ako sa Trece Martirez [I live in Trece Martirez]
Then I would be asked a few follow up questions I didn’t understand, would wrap it up with a strong ‘Salamat po’ [Thank you] and head out. My counterpart would talk to my officemates and tease me for my language skills, I couldn’t understand most of it, but she would focus on the way I pronounced ‘ako’. I didn’t really hear the difference but I also wasn’t brave enough to ask. So, I let it go and quietly studied language, tediously watching what I would choose to voice out-loud.
Fast forward a year later, I was a resource volunteer for the new batch of volunteers.
This meant I got to attend their community-based training. This is where new volunteers live in a community with host families and attend daily classes that focus on a range of topics such as language, culture, coastal resource management, safety and security, and medical. During one of the technical coastal resource management sessions we took a trip to a neighboring municipality to visit a fisherfolk organization. At this meeting they got to practice that beloved introduction they would learn to recite on command at their permanent sites.
I had gone through similar training and so I just sat back and watched the new trainees practice their language skills…that was when I heard it.
The harsher longer vowel sounds, where the vowel says its own name, are more common in American dialects. These don’t exist in Filipinos dialects. The letter ‘a’ is more commonly pronounced as ‘ă’ rather than ‘ā’. However, as a fresh little volunteer stubbornly sticking to my American accent, I was still using the harsher longer ‘ā’ sound in my introductions when I first got to site. Which, as a resource volunteer with a year of service under my belt, I will admit sounds very funny.
Your alarm goes off and you peel your eyes open to be partially blinded by your phone’s screen. The time reads 5:30am and you sit up straight and begin to stretch. Out in the kitchen you make yourself a cup of coffee and rest before beginning to prepare the biggest feast of the year. The menu is the same every year, but you still find yourself meticulously going over each recipe to make sure you didn’t forget any ingredients. No one wants to run to the neighbor’s house today to ask for a forgotten can of cream, or half cup of sugar.
After you contend that you have everything you could possibly need you begin to prepare the traditional dishes. Slowly and steadily the table begins to fill. The rest of the house wakes up to the sweet aroma of cooking foods. The family is immediately hungry and eager for the feast to come. You take a short break to watch the parade, and get ready to welcome family and old friends to share in the spirit of….
Thanksgiving? Fiesta? The end of that sentence is entirely up to you, Bahala ka.
On the surface these events seem very different, but the purpose of these celebrations is rooted in values that know no cultural bounds. Family, food, and cultural pride.
Christmas has begun
Fiesta, or Thanksgiving, family travels far and wide to come home and celebrate with their loved ones. The house is brought to life by warm hugs and conversations of life in the year (or years) past.
These holidays are nothing without the food! Buko salad, lechon, pansit, fried chicken, macaroni salad, fruit salad, among others grace the table during fiesta as stuffing, turkey, sweet potato casserole, and cranberry sauce do during Thanksgiving.
Both of these celebrations have parades that go along with them that highlight distinctive traits of their respective cultures. It had never occurred to me how deeply cultural the Thanksgiving day parade was until I saw the fiesta parades of the Philippines.
To me, the fiesta parades illustrated cultural value, history, and folklore. The dancers describe historical happenings, and the floats are designed to highlight important foods and exports. The Thanksgiving day parade is no different. The Thanksgiving day parade highlights foods that are typically used in it’s celebration, turkey, pumpkins, apples. We also dress in costume that is meant to be a tribute to the history of the holiday (the accuracy of this costume and version of history is another story). Many of it’s floats and acts are unique to the United States, whether they feature TV cartoon characters, a scene from a new Broadway show, or well-known celebrities.
It’s a fascinating experience to take a step back, and analyze my own culture on a larger scale. Describing the culture of the United States to people who have never experienced it, is a very difficult task. People want generalizations.
What do Americans eat?
What do Americans wear?
What sort of things do Americans do?
I always find it impossible to answer questions that generalize about the United States, because we are a country of such vast cultural diversity. Of course not EVERYONE in The United States celebrates Thanksgiving the same, but it’s one of the few generalizations I feel comfortable making.
Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, it holds a different meaning for different people. For my family it’s the epitome of autumn celebrations. Thanksgiving signifies the end of fall and the beginning of the Christmas season. It’s a time for family and to be thankful. Usually at my home we celebrate by cooking up all of the traditional foods, and a few of our own specialties (chocolate chocolate cake, cheesecake by mistake, to name a few of my mom’s famous dishes). We eat far too much and end up watching the movie ‘Elf’ in our sleepy, stuffed, stupor to officially start the Christmas season.
Christmas has begun
Post Thanksgiving Food Coma
1 Thanksgiving dinner later…
This year I taught my host nieces how to make hand turkeys, baked apple pie and stuffing. Tonight I’ll feel a little homesick while I video chat with my family, and I’ll make them turn the camera towards the television so I can watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
As the ‘firsts’ turn into ‘lasts’ this year, I can’t help but wonder maybe next year I’ll be experiencing similar feelings as I force feed my family in the United States buko salad to celebrate fiesta…
The period of time after Halloween and before Thanksgiving in the United States is a grey area. It’s not quite Christmas, but it’s also no longer that spooky pre-Halloween time. We all know those eager Christmas junkies that break out their Christmas decor on November 1, and can be heard humming holiday carols at all times of the day. The ladder, is the group of people who aren’t quite ready to embrace the ‘most wonderful time of the year’.
In my opinion, Christmas starts right after everyone has filled themselves to the brim with Thanksgiving dessert and the whole family settles into the couch and to watch the movie ‘Elf’.
So for those not quite ready to let Fall go, here is a post-Halloween article about the ghost and ghouls that haunt the Philippines.
In America we have things like vampires, ghosts, bigfoot, demons and spirits. And we all know at least one or two good ghost stories. Whether we’ve experienced the supernatural ourselves, or we’re relaying a story we heard from a friend, there’s nothing quite like a spooky tale that sends chills down your spine. The Philippines is no different! There are ghosts and ghouls that haunt this corner of the world too. I could explain them all, but I think this video does them more justice than I ever could:
The supernatural world is still alive and active in the Philippines, there are precautions to be taken in order to limit your vulnerability to the hurtful spirits. Like saying ‘tabi tabi po’ when passing by an area well known for Encantado (american equivalent would be a fairy). If you do find yourself effected, healers can be found in every City, Municipality, Barangay, and Situ. They are the ones that can heal ailments that cannot be cured by doctors or medicine. When I was sick a few months ago, the first thing I was asked was if I had offended anyone, as they may have put a curse on me. A quick diagnosis by Nanay determined I was ‘really sick talaga’ and had not been cursed.
But now that it’s drawing closer and closer to Christmas (and there’s no Thanksgiving to perpetuate the Fall) the spooky stories are being put away for next season, and the Christmas trees are being decorated with tinsel and lights. Hopefully I’ll spend my last Christmas in the Philippines in Casiguran, and not consolidated for another Typhoon!
If there’s one conversation that is surprisingly similar whether I’m in the United States, or the Philippines, it’s about where I’m from.
[In the United States]
Stranger: Where are you from?
Me: I’m from New York
Stranger: The city?
Me: No, I’m from upstate
Stranger: Oh like Syracuse?
Me: Umm, not quite that far upstate…
[In the Philippines]
Friendly Ate: Taga-saan ka? (Where are you from?)
Me: Taga New York ako. (I’m from New York)
Friendly Ate: aaaaahhyyeee New York City?! The Big Apple?!
Me: haha, uhhh actually dai sa New York City. Malaking an New York. (Not the city, New York is big)
Friendly Ate: ah okay, pirang an oras sa city? (how many hours to the city?)
Me: siguro cero o duwang oras. (one or two hours)
[Friendly Ate still thinks I’m from the city because an hour jeep ride doesn’t get you very far in the Philippines]
To be fair, the United States is huge. Even Americans find it difficult not to generalize when it comes to understanding where someone is from. For New Yorkers who aren’t from the city though, this can be a bit of a sore spot.
So, here are some pictures to help paint a clearer picture of where I’m from.
Small Town USA
Small Town USA
My favorite apple Orchard
St Mary’s Catholic Church
Where I’m from can be referred to as ‘Small Town USA’. There are no skyscrapers, no subways, no busy sidewalks and certainly no yellow taxi cabs. I live among farms, orchards, and forests on the outskirts of a few small towns. These towns have certain features that you may not find in the city, but are nonetheless, iconic to New York.
Fresh produce at Roe’s Orchards
Apples Apples Everywhere!
Betty’s Country Kitchen, a local diner
Smiling faces at Betty’s Country Kitchen!
A few of these features include Apple Orchards, Pizzerias, and Diners; and in preparation for my visit home these were all on my ‘to do’ list.
Visiting my favorite apple orchard for it’s crunchy sweet corn, the crisp juicy apples, and the ripe delicious blueberries. Luckily, I came home in the correct season when the orchard was open! In New York we can’t harvest these fruits and vegetables all year around because we have such drastic seasons. Most fruits and vegetables are ready for harvest at some point during the summer, or the beginning of fall.
Eat as much New York Pizza as I possibly could. Each small town I’m surrounded by has at least one pizzeria (if not 2 or 3). Truthfully, I had forgotten just how good New York Pizza was!
Eating at a diner. Diners are unique to the Northeast, and Midwest USA. They have a wide selection of food, and you can eat whatever you want at any time of day. In the mood for pasta at 6am? You’ve got it. Feeling like pancakes at 9pm? Still on the menu! ALSO, most diners are open 24/7 making it a perfect late night road trip stop. The diner featured above has a warm and welcoming feel to it, and has become the heart of my hometown.
And of course, what’s home without family!
My Grandpa makes the best steak!
Me and my sister Tiffany at our cousin’s wedding
My best friend, I avoca-don’t know what I would do without her.
My dog Maisy is not too happy about me leaving again
My baby sister Quinn at her brand new college
Besides getting to visit my favorite state, I also got to see a bunch of my favorite people (and canines!). Not all of them were in New York but a bit of travel was well worth seeing their smiling faces after over a year of living in the Philippines.
My last New York feast for another year, with my favorite faces around the table!
We’ve been friends for almost 20 years, a trip to NY wouldn’t be complete without seeing Gabi.
A quick stop to Florida to visit family and friends!
Penny the new addition to the Fowler Family. She’s an odd pup
My beautiful cousins
After an unforgettable two weeks home, 77 hours of travel, countless hugs and laughs, enough pizza, cheese, and bagels to get me through another year, and about 40 kilos of pasalubong, I’m back in the Philippines once again!
Trading the brisk breeze of my New York, for the humid habagat of my Philippines.
This month is all about my home province. Almost every weekend I was able to experience corners of my province with my officemates and fellow Peace Corps volunteers. Beautiful beaches, and stunning wildlife, southern Bicol has got it all!
Just a few kuyas hanging out in the shade in front of a beautiful waterfront vista, enjoying the shade on a hot day. The summer months may be the hottest months, but they’re also the months most popular for sightseeing and traveling.
2. I do live on an island…
I’m never too far from a gorgeous beach.
3.Tour ni Sorsogon
My mayor took my entire LGU on a tour of the province this past month. Barcelona was one of our last stops.
4. Street Meats
Down skinny city streets there are food stands squished together, one right after the next. These stands are surrounded by crowds of people picking up a quick merienda before continuing on their way. Common street foods include adidas (chicken feet), chicken isaw (chicken intestines), kwek-kwek (hard boiled and fried quail eggs), banana-cue (fried and sugared banana), and lumpia (similar to spring rolls)
5. ‘Local Guide ako’
This month I helped out showing visitors around our bay. As we cruised along I talked about our mangrove forests and species of mangrove we were passing. 9 months here and I’ve earned the badge of ‘local guide’.
6. Tahong or Asian Green Mussels
One of our most prominent exports is tahong, or Asian green mussels. These mussels are grown on to bamboo sticks under the water. Tahong operators dove down and brought up the growing mussels for our visitors to look at.
The whale shark is locally known as the ‘butanding’. Butanding watching is one of the most well known tourist destinations in my province. Being here for 9 months I have often been asked if I have seen the butanding yet. Now I can finally say YES! What an amazing experience! Swimming with the largest fish in the ocean through water thick with plankton. His giant mouth could easily fit a full grown human being, but lucky for us he would rather feed on the tiny plankton. His little eyeball followed me as my stubby human legs kicked hard to keep up with his lazy giant tail sways. This particular shark was only around 5m long. He was accompany by 5 or 6 remoras suctioned to his skin, picking up a free ride on this gentle giant.
8. My Favorite Place To Be, Under the Sea
If SCUBA tanks didn’t have limitations I’m not sure you could ever convince me to come to the surface, especially in a place like Donsol. Donsol is in my top two as far as dive sites go. So much interesting life; seahorses, nudibranchs, sea snakes, manta rays, feather stars, and colorful walls of soft corals. If anyone knows someone working on a pair of human gills, let me know.
9. The Alien Feather Star
Feather stars are one of the most interesting looking critters. They are in the same phylum as the starfish, Echinodermata. Normally these animals are attached to some sort of substrate, either a rock, or large coral. However, if they aren’t getting enough food, or if that place becomes unfavorable for another reason, they can move to a different spot. We were lucky enough to see a few of them swimming. Their arms, usually used for filter feeding, quickly pulse downward through the water propelling the animal off the ground and upward. Here’s a clip by Nat Geo of the mystifying swimming feather star. One of my new favorite animals.
Nudibranchs are sea slugs, but they are much more interesting than that name implies. There are 3,000 species of these colorful Gastropods and new species are identified almost daily. The term Nudibranch means ‘naked gills’. It’s given this name because the feathery appendages seen on its back are its gills. These critters are incredibly diverse coming in all shapes, sizes, colors, and patterns.
That’s all for this month! I hope you learned something new about marine life and are more motivated than ever to come visit me here in the Philippines.
Similar many other traditions in filipino culture, this is a fun and light-hearted activity that takes place at many family reunions, and fiestas.
The Boodle Fight is a style of eating. As a Philippine Military Academy tradition, cadets would gather around a long table of foods arranged on top of banana leaves and eat together ‘kamayan’ or with your hands. This tradition is said to perpetuate oneness, and equality, as soldiers of different ranks would partake in one boodle fight. Haphazardly, a boodle fight is also every person for themselves as the food is ‘fought’ over until not a grain of rice remains!
So how does one survive a boodle fight? Having participated in three this past week, consider me your personal spirit guide on all things boodle fight related.
First things first, battle field preparation
The table arrangement is very important. The table must be long enough to accommodate an entire platoon of family and friends, but also must be wide enough to hold plenty of rice, ulam (main dish), soups, sauces, and fruits.
Once you are content with your table arrangement, all of the tables must be dressed with banana leaves. Don’t worry about not having enough to cover the table, there’s always a nearby banana tree with some leaves to spare if you’re running short.
Second, What’s a Boodle Fight Without Food?
Of course you MUST have food. Be sure to cook plenty of rice as this will run down the table in two thick lines. Have plenty of rice on reserve to replenish throughout the boodle.
Most of the boodle fight food is prepared on a grill over charcoal. The grill requires two Ates. While one person grills, the other fans the coals and the chefs because the Philippine summer is MAINIT-ON (the hottest). Of course not all of the ulams are prepared over the grill, a stew or two is usually on the table as well. Be sure to have plenty of ulam options, but also be wary of your table’s carrying capacity.
FINALLY, THE SET-UP
Each ‘section’ of the boodle fight table must have equal reachability to all the different types of ulam. This gets particularly tricky when you have to fit 6 different ulams, as well as sauces and fruits, all within the reachability margin. But don’t despair, it is possible. It may take a few rounds of rearranging, but it is possible to fit various ulams, soups, sauces, and fruits between the two rows of rice.
TIPS: BOODLE FIGHT ETIQUETTE
There are a few ‘do’s and don’ts’ that go along with boodle fighting.
First, do not start early.
The food may look delicious, but you must not start a second before the person in charge says so. Keep those hands ‘taas-on an kamay!’ (hands up high!)
Second, do not switch spots.
This is highly frowned upon (and why it’s so important that all the different ulams are equally reachable from every spot).
Third, when you’re finished clear out!
Move out the way for the next round of hungry fighters!
Finally, have fun and stuff your face!
No one leaves a boodle fight ‘gutom’ (hungry).
To my Filipino readers, post in the comments section any steps, tips, or tricks, I may have missed!
My Ate called me from my washing to watch as two men carried a massive pig (soon to become lechon) across coco logs to a house that was nestled between muddy fields of rice. Tied by its legs to a thick piece wood, the pig balanced on the shoulders of two men. Three more pigs would pass by in the same manner, “May Kasal sa aga” (They have a wedding tomorrow) my Ate said.
Over lunch I asked more about the wedding. My Ate explained that traditionally the wedding is held in the bride’s hometown and that it was the groom’s family we had seen earlier bringing the pigs and other food to the house.
She also told me she was the bride’s ‘Ninang’ (Godmother) but she couldn’t go all the way to the Municipyo the next morning for the ceremony.
“Do you want to go?” She asked.
My Peace Corps brain triggered an enthusiastic: “Sure! Why not!”
“Okay, Ninang si Chelsea! You will be the Ninang!” She laughs.
Wait What? I quickly realized my mistake.
“Wait, wait, I just want to go to watch! I can’t be the Ninang!”
I tried to wiggle my way out but my host family was too excited about the idea already.
“No it’s okay! You will be the Ninang! You will wear a dress to work tomorrow!”
While cross cultural interactions are fantastic, they also involve a certain amount of anxiety. Weddings in the United States are generally not open invitation, and the titles like ‘Godmother’ are non-transferrable. So you can imagine my concern when I was told I would be the Godmother at a wedding, the night before.
The next morning, I put on a dress and climbed into the tryke like usual. When I arrived at work EVERYONE made sure I knew I was wearing a dress. ‘Chelsea magayon! You’re wearing a dress!’ I could feel the heat of embarrassment creeping across my face, as a thousand eyes pointed out that I was indeed wearing a dress.
As soon as the family of the bride and groom walked in they scooped me into their little entourage. My blush subsided and I slowly forgot why I was so nervous in the first place.
I was told, and continue to be told, how hospitable Filipinos are. But to me, hospitality is making one comfortable. Filipinos far exceed mere comfort. They incorporate you into their family so immediately, and genuinely, without any degree of hesitation. It’s the feeling I’ve experienced in the US with my best friend’s family. In the United States those ties and emotions take time, but here, time is not a factor.
At the end of the ceremony the Godparents are supposed to give advice to the newlyweds. My Vice-Mayor looked at me: “Ninang Chelsea, you have never been married but what advice do you have for the newlyweds” the room chuckled as he said this “Bicol! Bicol Lang!” He quickly added.
I choppily responded: “Magminuotan kamo hangang saindon pag-gurang”
Translation: You will love each other until you are old (S/O to Kuya Bilyo for that line).
As the ceremony came to a close my nerves settled just in time to be piled onto the family’s tryke. We headed back to our Situ where the loud music could be heard from the highway. Everyone passing would know “May Kasal niyan” (there is a wedding today).
The wedding entourage and I took off our shoes and walked across the balance beams of coco log stuck in the mud of the rice fields to get to the house just on the other side.
The music blasted away, and the tables were filled with all sorts of Filipino pagkaon. As I was sat down and fed immediately, I noticed the familiar faces of my neighborhood and the warm feeling of being a part of it.
Next began the Pantomina de Sorsogon. This is a traditional Bicol dance that is meant to mimic the mating dance of the salampati or the dove. Family and friends join in the dance to pin money to the clothes of the newlyweds.
Family members brought out elaborate shashes of money all pinned together. I watched as the white and black attire of the couple slowly became colorful with Philippine pesos.
As I joined in the dance to pin my pesos to the couple I was cheered and joined by excited neighbors and friendly faces.
As I left the wedding festivities a Kuya came out of his tagay circle to say goodbye to my Ate Helen and I. As I slipped off my shoes to once again cross the muddy rice fields he looked to me and said
“An experience, huh Ate?”
As I tested my balance with my belly full of lechon and rice, and my brow sweaty from dancing Pantomina, I smiled back and agreed; ‘Iyo, quite an experience.’