How to Plan a Communal Eating Experience: Kamayan at Home (Part 1)

The whole spread! Wish we had a better photo. Outer rim, going toward the center: vegetable spring rolls, bell pepper strips, stuffed clam shells, cucumber slices,  corn, alternating char siu pork and lemongrass chicken kebabs, bed of rice vermicelli, kielbasa sausage, mussels and clams, nuoc mam dipping sauce, cajun garlic butter sauce, crab legs.

My husband turned 30 earlier this summer and I was racking my brain trying to decide what I could do to help him celebrate a "milestone" birthday. I knew we wanted to have some friends over, and where there's friends, there is always food. I've hosted Friendsgiving and potluck style dinners, but the first time I had cooked for 40 people was at our housewarming party the year prior. We learned the following from that experience:
  1. Limit the barbecued foods. Having to tend to a grill leaves little time to chat with guests.
  2. People eat less than you think they'll need. Some eat more, others eat less. It balances out!
  3. You will almost always have leftovers for the next week. Do yourself a solid and offer some food at the end of the night to your guests. Trust me, nobody wants to be stuck doing fridge clean-out for a week after a big party. With that said, 2-3 days worth of leftovers are always welcome!
  4. Have an appetizer to snack on. My favorite is an easy, no cook charcuterie board. Pick a hard cheese, a soft cheese, a mild cheese, and a funky cheese. Go crazy with the sliced and cured meats. Add in allllllll the fruit and nut toppings. Punctuate that board with some jammy goodness. Your guests will happily munch away as they wait for the mains to be prepared.
  5. Have a friend who is coming bring extra bags of ice. You'll need it for drinks and coolers!
  6. Ask everyone to bring a bottle or a six-pack if anyone asks, "What can we bring?" Aldi and Costco are going to be your best friend for alcohol.
Luckily, I knew just the place to go for party food inspiration. I joined this Facebook cooking group awhile back, not thinking much about it. It was a Vietnamese cooking group, and it has turned into one of the most hospitable, friendly, encouraging communities ever. These members are serious about food and always post their meal inspiration. Usually the dishes are Vietnamese, but everyone posts food from all over the world. I had recently stumbled across a post for "kamayan," which is a Filipino style of eating with your hands. Utensils are forgotten and a large meal for a group of people is served family-style on a bed of banana leaves. Many of the dishes traditional to a Filipino Kamayan feast are incredible, and include the items below:

I knew I couldn't do this traditional meal and the nuanced flavors justice, so I decided to simplify a few things (especially with it being my first time!) and stick with making more familiar, comfortable, "tried and true' recipes. Essentially, I took the Kamayan eating experience and tailored it to my guests' taste preferences and my cooking ability. I decided to do a cajun seafood and Vietnamese food mashup:
  1. DIY Rice vermicelli assembly bowls also known as "bun" with a variety of herbs and vegetable toppings
  2. Traditional sweet and sour Vietnamese dipping sauce, "nuoc mam cham"
  3. Cajun butter crab, mussels, and clams along with sausage and corn for the Southern spin
  4. Protein options: lemongrass chicken skewers and char siu barbecue pork skewers
  5. Freshly made pina coladas served in pineapples and fruity jello shots -- our Ninja blender came in handy!
  6. Store bought sheet cake from Costco- because I wasn't an expert, and I didn't want to deal with baking. Plus, where else can you get a double chocolate cake filled with 3 lbs of chocolate mousse that feeds 48 mouths for less than twenty bucks? (Not sponsored, I promise. I just love you, Costco).

How I organized sourcing my ingredients was vital as I knew I had to hit up multiple stores to get all of the ingredients we needed. My favorite way to organize a long and lengthy list is by recipe first. In a spreadsheet, list all of the ingredients and quantity needed for each recipe. In a separate column, write down shared ingredients between recipes (garlic, ginger, soy sauce were common for me). Next, download the corresponding spreadsheets app on your phone. Open your spreadsheet at the store and strike through/cross out the items as you put them in your basket.

Here is a sample of what my insane grocery list looked like:

Chinatown Market

  • 2 bunches lemongrass
  • 1 bottle fish sauce
  • 1 knob galangal
  • 3 packages of rice vermicelli
  • Sweet chili dipping sauce
  • Mint, basil, cilantro & 5 packages frozen banana leaves 


  • 10 lbs of b/s chicken breast
  • 5 lbs pork shoulder
  • 10 lbs of crab legs
  • 5 lbs of clams and mussels
  • 4 packages of butter
  • Old Bay seasoning
  • Lemon pepper seasoning
  • 5 packages of cooked sausage
  • 10 ears of corn
  • 5 bell peppers
  • 20 pineapples


  • 2 bottles of rum
  • 1 sheet cake (submit personalization beforehand)
  • napkins
  • cutlery
  • aluminum foil
  • cups

Dollar Tree

  • Tiki decorations
  • Tablecloth
  • Paper decor
  • Leis
  • Straws
  • Plastic cocktail stirrers
Don't rush into grocery shopping, and take it easy. Do not stress. The best way to plan and save money is to compare prices of various items through your stores' weekly ads. This means sourcing ingredients throughout the course of several weeks, whenever possible. Utilize your pantry! Once you're done grocery shopping, half the work is done and everything else is "fun"! Read on for Part 2 (coming soon) detailing the specifics of my 3-day food preparations and what I realized I could make ahead of time... As always, you rock and thank you for reading!


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