The Torrance restaurant Silog offers kamayan feasts, a delicious, over-the-top, pre-colonial spread of traditional Filipino fare that’s meant for sharing.
To enter Silog, a modern Filipino restaurant in Torrance, guests pass through a door bearing the image of a gigantic egg. The restaurant’s name, after all, is Tagalog for egg, fried rice and garlic — the backbone of their menu.
The restaurant opened its doors in 2016 and recently introduced communal-style kamayan feasts. The traditional Filipino dining affair involves piles of seafood, roasted eggplant, bok choy, lumpia (a Filipino-style egg roll), longganisa (sweet sausage), barbecued chicken, a variety of pork dishes and more. The belly-stretching spread is stacked atop banana leaves and meant to be eaten without plates or utensils. In fact, kamayan is Tagalog for “by-hand.”
The Pacific island nation has a history of hands-on eating. It’s a tradition that the U.S. reportedly tried to stifle as part of controversial cultural reshaping efforts after the 1898 Treaty of Paris.
That history is not lost on Silog co-founder Lemuel Guiyab.
“Growing up as a child in the Philippines gave me a first-hand experience of the pervasive vestiges of Western colonial influences,” Guiyab says. “I still remember how my cousins and I were trying to compete on how to speak proper English or sing a perfect Disney song with an American accent. Everyone was trying to be Americanized from the way they dress, speak and even act.”
He moved to the U.S. when he was seven years old and lived with his grandparents, who imparted lessons on “true Filipino identity.” This included learning how to cook traditional dishes with his grandmother.
“This is one reason why I opened up a Filipino restaurant in L.A.,” Guiyab says. “I want to help establish Filipino culture here in the U.S. through our food.”
Filipino food is growing in influence in the U.S., as evidenced by the cuisine served at lauded restaurants like LASA in Los Angeles, Maharlika in Manhattan and Bad Saint in Washington, D.C. Silog has mostly flown under the radar, but the fact that they offer kamayan feasts, a Filipino communal celebration that remains a bit tricky to find, makes Silog even more of a destination.
“I want to help establish Filipino culture here in the U.S. through our food.”
Lemuel Guiyab, Silog co-founder
Guiyab and his wife Lorrain are both from Quezon City, which lies northeast of Manila, the Philippine capital. Growing up they would partake in kamayan feasts with family and friends often at home, but occasionally at higher-end restaurants. The couple and their three kids carry on this tradition in L.A., hosting the elaborate meal at least once a week, preferably at an open-air rooftop table if the weather allows it.
“We love to share food with family and friends,” Guiyab says. “What better way than with a boodle fight?” A “boodle fight” is another name for a kamayan feast.
At a recent Silog boodle fight, Guiyab ignited a kitchen torch and fire-blasted banana leaves to “release the aroma.” He then rolled out a double-decker cart loaded with sizzling pans and proceeded to pile on the meat and seafood before decoratively swooshing sauces atop the rice and banana leaves spread out on the table.
The feast featured sweet shrimp sautéed with garlic butter, calamansi (a citrus fruit native to the Philippines) and honey, followed by salty SPAM slabs seared to perfection and cubes of fat-streaked lechon kawali — a pork belly that’s brined with bay leaves, garlic and fish sauce that’s then braised for five hours and flash-fried. The result is tender meat that melts when you bite into it.
Guiyab also served sisig, a Filipino pork dish that typically features minced snout and ears. He topped the dish with a garlic cream aioli, ground up chicharon — or crispy pork rinds — and scallions for texture and color.
“This is our bacon in the Philippines,” Guiyab said as he scooped from a pan on the table.
Other offerings included tocino, a bright-pink, chopped pork shoulder marinated with pineapple; handfuls of itlog na maalat, creamy, umami-rich salted duck egg cubes; and sweet, fatty longganisa.
As if that wasn’t enough, the feast also included deep-fried calamari rings, crispy deep-fried oysters and lumpia filled with ground pork and veggies.
Guiyab dotted the length of the feast with fried garlic and cheery edible purple orchids. Condiments included a sweet mango salsa that’s “good with anything,” streaks of house-made egg tartar sauce and thinly-shaved pickled green papaya and carrots among other sauces. Ripe scarred-mango provided the finishing touch.
“When practicing kamayan, you need to pinch the food using your fingers, make a clump and hold it in your fingertips,” Guiyab says. “You’re not supposed to let the clump settle on your palm. While holding the clump in your fingertips, use your thumb to push it into your mouth.”
He says this style of eating is done traditionally in many homes in the Philippines, and that some people prefer this style because “it’s more comfortable to be one with the food.”
That said, he made it clear that there are no rules when it comes to kamayan.
Once every element is in place, it’s a free-for-all and everything is up for grabs. Silog’s feast also includes a non-alcoholic, sweet and tart calamansi juice garnished with mint — beer and wine are verboten via lack of a permit. Yes, Silog serves desserts, but mango ice cream and leche flan feel beside the point after such a feast.
“Kamayan is a quintessential example of how Filipino [culture] values sharing,” Guiyab says. “In a way, when the food setting is playful like this, all the worries in life seems to go away and the focus is just on the food … Sometimes we just need to relax after a long week at work and just enjoy a delicious feast with our loved ones.”
Make reservations for a table of two-22 adults at least 48 hours in advance. The experience costs $39.95 per person. As long as at least two people commit, Silog only needs a couple of days to prepare. Fill out this form ahead of time and let the chef which seven key ingredients you’d like your kamayan to feature.