IMAGINE yourself as a tourist coming to the Philippines for the very first time. You can be any nationality you want. You’re taking in all the wonderful sights and sounds that this unique tropical country has to offer. You’re also being shown around by your Filipino friend whom you met over the Internet. He says he has a special treat for you. He takes you out to his backyard and you see a long table. Then he says you’re going to have a boodle fight.
“A boodle fight.”
Is he asking you to fight him on that table? This country is weird. You’re prepared to either leave quietly or put up your dukes and fight this little guy on a table like he asks… oh wait they’re bringing banana leaves onto the table. Guess that kinda makes sense, if he doesn’t want any blood on the… food? Why is he putting food on the banana leaves if he wants to fight on them? You kindly explain to your host that it’s considered extremely strange in your culture to fight on top of food.
Your host looks at you, uncomprehending, for a few seconds, suddenly realizes what you’re talking about, and explains that a boodle fight isn’t an actual fight. It’s just called that. To your western (or eastern if you’re pretending to be Kojapachitaireanese) mind, it doesn’t make sense to give something a name that has no relation to what it actually is. That’d be like calling a trench coat a “Burberry”. (Many Koreans do this.)
Your host explains to you that the boodle fight is actually the Filipino version of the buffet, except that unlike a buffet, there are no plates, no utensils, no seats, no napkins, and only the most necessary table manners. Everyone lines up at the table and simply digs in. The rice is piled neatly in the center like a white carpet, flanked by pork, chicken or seafood of some sort. There’s no need for etiquette here. Just grab whatever you can and shovel it into your mouth. There’s not even any need to use a particular hand like the Hindus do -- left hand, right hand, whichever. (Although attempting to use your foot as a limb like a monkey on the boodle fight table is frowned upon.)
The boodle fight is a tradition from the Philippine military. Since it does not require plates or utensils, and since banana leaves are always readily available, it makes sense to eat like a bunch of Viking raiders… except that the Vikings had better table manners, and actually used plates and bowls. A boodle fight can be prepared quickly and disposed of quickly, and that’s great for military efficiency.
The boodle fights were originally practiced by members of the PMA. Officers and enlisted men would gather together and eat from the same giant banana leaf… “plate” for lack of a better word… as a symbol of fraternity and equality.
The Turkish Janissaries had something similar to this -- the Janissaries were an elite group of ex-Christian soldiers fighting as the sultan’s bodyguard from the Middle Ages up to the 19th century. Just like the Romans carried around an eagle as their standard, the Janissaries carried a soup pot and a spoon into battle. To lose the soup pot or the spoon to the hands of the enemy was to suffer a great dishonor. Both officers and soldiers alike ate from the same pot, and since it was the “sultan’s soup”, it symbolized their loyalty to him.
Boodle fights can be a messy business, and they’re called “fights” since there are no set boundaries for “whose food goes where”. It’s basically a free for all. Everyone grabs what they can and hopes that they’ll be able to eat their fill before the whole banana plate is licked clean.