The term “binalot” is not so much a reference to food itself but rather to how the food is packed or wrapped. The Filipino term usually pertains to using banana leaves as the wrapper, especially for meals that combine rice and viand. Many provinces and rural regions in the Philippines use this method to pack their food, but many restaurants throughout the country have also ventured to use “binalot” to create a distinct eating experience for their customers.
In the Filipino language, the word “binalot” means “wrapped” and is derived from the root word “balot” that means “to wrap.” Use of leaves as a wrapper and container of food probably goes as far back as to the primitive times, since the banana plants are in abundance in many Asian tropical countries such as the Philippines. The use of banana leaves probably became more essential for laborers who would travel far from their homes and needed a means to store their meals.
The binalot method is very practical and ideal in many ways: for one, banana leaves have a wide and elongated appearance, making them a perfect container for huge amounts of food. The leave’s flexibility also makes it easier to fold and wrap over the food contained inside, although the leaves are usually heated over a small fire or soaked in water to make them more flexible and less resistant to tearing. Heating the banana leaf also releases the natural oils that prevent the food from sticking, making it easier to eat with one’s fingers, as traditionally done. The oils also help keep the food moist and warm while imparting an appetite-enhancing aroma. Once the leaf is folded over the food, a string is usually tied around the entirety to keep it sealed.
Once opened, the banana leaf can immediately serve as a plate that can be disposed of right after use. It can be used as a fertilizer ingredient or as cattle feed. The binalot method is very environmentally-friendly because it uses sustainable resources, does not leave any carbon footprint, and even helps enrich the soil when thrown away. It also helps lessen the use of plastic and polystyrene containers, both of which do not decompose easily in the soil. Binalot is also economical, especially for restaurants, as banana leaves are easily and cheaply obtained as compared to purchasing glass plates.
A typical rice-and-viand meal in a binalot restaurant usually consists of a serving of rice and a meat dish that is grilled or fried, such as a chicken leg or a pork barbecue. A side dish can sometimes be included, such as a salad of salted egg and tomato or “achara,” a salad made of pickled vegetables. Many Asian countries like India, Malaysia, and Thailand also abundantly use banana leaves to serve and store their food not only for daily meals but also for festivities.