Even the Inquirer attempted a definition.
“The Urban Dictionary defines “boodle fight” as “a military style of eating,” in which food, piled on top of banana leaves laid out on long tables, is to be taken with bare hands washed with water from jugs prepared on the side, which “eating combat” begins when the signal is given.
The dictionary adds, rather jocularly, that this is “Philippine fine dining,” in which everyone has to eat fast and can have his fill.
This was contributed by a friend, the good Judge Simeon Dumdum from Cebu.
There are quite a few restaurants that have begun to offer their food in such a fashion, and it amuses many a bugo no end when they see people partake of the food awkwardly because they know only too well what kind of activity this really does entail.
When my classmate, the good general Noli Orense, was lamenting the matter of proprietarial considerations, I was inspired enough to look into the etymology of this tradition of the Corps, it’s origins and how it evolved since.
As with most terms that were incorporated into the Corps language, “boodle” has it’s origins in the depression era language of the West Point cadet corps of the time. From what I hear, the term is no longer in use in Hudson High, but lives on in Loakan and beyond her portals.
“Boodle” was a term used by gangs in New York at that time, and it meant money, stash, contraband, stolen goods and at times, prohibition outlawed alcohol and drugs.
The West Point cadets appropriated the term for themselves, and when some of their graduates were assigned to train the cadets of what used to be the Philippine Constabulary Academy, the term was absorbed into the culture.
From then on, it evolved and became associated with food consumed outside the mess hall by the perpetually hungry cadets until one brilliant soul decided to put together a small feast of paper bags of what used to be steaming rice, a can of sardines, all dumped on a sheet of newspaper – to be consumed by available hungry cadets lucky enough to be in the area at the prompting of one, shouting “Booodlefight!!”.
(Class 81 boodlefight demo during class, courtesy of LtGen Alan R. Luga (ret.))
Then, the fracas begins.
Everyone, regardless of class distinctions jumps in for a fistful of food – some accompanied by bits of newspaper – and mouthed as soon as possible, to make room for another fistful, if one was fortunate enough to get another.
To be sure, elbows and sometimes fists missed the boodle mountain and landed elsewhere.
Intentional or not, this was considered to be part of the fun. Woe betide you if the target for the “hit” was an upperclassman and if he saw who aimed it at him. Inadvertently or not.
To make things even more exciting, these non culinary events were held in company trunk rooms and lights were purposely turned off before the boodlefight call was shouted. This made for more “hits” and you can be sure they weren’t misses.
The key element to the success of these small “celebrations” was an appetite honed sharper by continuous physical activity such as road runs, PE classes and athletics. This is why cadets were always hungry. Plebes, even more so.
And there was never a shortage for a cause for celebration: birthdays, company victories, or any other reason – all one had to do was to order a few plebes to ferret out paper bags of steamed rice out of the mess hall and have a can or two of sardines handy.
After study period, a quick prep of the mess to be was engineered – and those in the know began to hang around the trunk room area, eager for the sweet call of “boodlefight” to be shouted out. And quicker than a jump from a C-130, everyone fell into the mess, willingly.
This is why, when “boodlefights” are held to commemorate a victory or an achievement by a unit, knowing former cadets smile wryly. Because they know how different the nature of their boodlefight is from what they know to be the real thing.
(A more “civilized” boodlefight, held at Central Command, by Matikas Class 83 classmates and families to commemorate someone’s visit. The food was delicious and the fun was hilarious.)
It used to be that when Cavaliers, former cadets and retired alumni gathered together, they initially attempted to capture the spirit of the boodlefight during the mealtime of the affair. But alas, they could not. After the first few handfuls, everyone began to fill up rather quickly and the food would still be plentiful.
These days, plates and a buffet style of serving has become more de rigeur. And the boodlefight consigned to a memory.
But, there are still some times when some of these friends from the Corps decide to eat together and get a can or two of sardines and, well, you know the drill.
Just for the taste of it. Once again.
Bon appetit, ladies and gentlemen of the Corps.