The US ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas hosted a “boodle fight” for the reporters of the Defense Press Corps at the U.S. Embassy’s Najeeb Saleeby Courtyard on March 21, 2013. According to the embassy’s online post, defense and security officials of the U.S. government, including Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines Deputy Commander David Cole (left), also joined the “boodle fight” which was patterned after the traditional Philippine military way of enjoying a humble feast piled on top of banana leaves.
This seems to be the best explanation for a boodle fight, although it is posted under martial arts:
From my experience during my compulsory military training, a “boodle fight” is the Philippine Military jargon for a mess hall banquet where all the food are piled into one big tray in each table and every soldier, enlisted men and officer alike eat from that same tray with their hands as a symbol of camaraderie, brotherhood and equality in the Armed Forces. The “fight” part refers to the fact that it’s everyman for himself during these feasts, this means you grab and eat as much as you can before the food runs out or else go hungry because everyone else is gorging away.
Food typically is placed if not on a food tray then on banana leaves or old newspapers, you eat using your bare hands, so jugs of water are put on the side to wash hands before and after the eating combat. Looks like they’re eating rice, noodles and some sort of meat and most of them appears to be enjoying themselves. More photos here from the embassy’s boodle fight.
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Boodle is or was the West Point slang for candy or other forbidden goodies in plebe rooms, and perhaps made the transoceanic transfer to the Phillipines, during the days when it was a US territory and the home base for large contingents of US troops and officers in the Asian theater, perhaps in the broader sense of desirable things to eat. The military guests at this affair may also have helped name it. Food fights are not always like the ones in frat houses. Sometimes that is how overcrowded but well-catered formal receptions are irreverently referred to by those who are officially expected to attend, more or less voluntarily. Hence in this instance, without rancor, a boodle fight, although the term is new to me. On a parallel track, I remember once getting my hand stabbed with a fork at a lavish tropical Cuban diplomatic national day reception buffet in Prague that had drawn forth too large a crowd of Cold War eager eaters from deprived Eastern European countries. Fingers only would have been safer at that one. Tangentially, the ever-eloquent and acerbic Brits also have been known to refer to overcrowded cocktail parties as bun fights.
GK – Thanks for elaborating on this, much appreciated. It looks like Philippine restaurants now offer “boodle fights” on the menu. I am guessing that it is best to do this with folks you know rather than strangers.
Could not have been fun being stabbed with a fork during a reception. I could almost imagine that as a scene in a cold-war novel. Thanks for sharing.