From sailing to gardening: Former seafarer grows bahay kubo veggies to cope with food culture shock in Europe

Christine Mallon-Odzic, 31, a native of Iloilo City, found a home in Tivat, Montenegro where she now builds a new life with her growing family. She grows Philippine and other Asian veggies to remind her of her roots. 

By Vina Medenilla

Moving to a place outside one’s homeland is a major life event and not everyone is lucky to have a smooth transition. The adjustment period can be tough in many aspects, including having to deal with unfamiliar dishes and practices. 

Christine Mallon-Odzic, 31, a native of Iloilo City, faced the same struggle when she migrated to Tivat, Montenegro where her spouse is from. Odzic has been in Europe for five years now. She’s a former seafarer and has been a full-time mom and gardener since 2017. 

Odzic engages her daughter Marija in sowing, maintaining, and harvesting plants in the garden.

Adapting to the expat life

After moving to Montenegro, Odzic decided to plant Bahay Kubo vegetables in her new home’s backyard to help deal with her food culture shock. “Bahay Kubo” is a popular Filipino folk song that lists common vegetables that can be grown around the home for personal consumption. Its lyrics were not only a source of comfort to Odzic, but also a guide on what to grow.

To support her endeavor, her father-in-law built a greenhouse where she could plant vegetables even during the winter season.

Odzic and her family tends to a backyard garden that measures 260 square meters where they grow crops for household consumption.

Odzic continues to find comfort and peace in gardening, and it was especially helpful while she was adjusting to her new home. The activity enables her to combine her love for the outdoors with her passion to nurture plants. “I never expect[ed] to find gardening so gratifying and joyful, especially in a foreign country. So, I look forward to planting more and making landscapes that inspire me with its diversity of plants and winding paths,” Odzic said. 

Odzic’s bountiful harvests including ampalaya, eggplant, chili peppers, and tomatoes. Odzic acquired the seeds of her Bahay Kubo veggies in the Philippines and brought them with her to Montenegro.

Most of the Bahay Kubo veggies are grown in a 260 square meter garden, excluding kundol (winter melon), patani (lima bean), and linga (sesame), which she hopes to grow in the future. Odzic produces ampalaya, kadios or kardis (pigeon pea), corn, Baguio beans, saluyot, alugbati, sayote, different kinds of chili, kamote, kangkong, okra, pipino, malunggay, choy sum, sitsaro, singkamas, and some fruits like banana, avocado, and papaya seasonally. She also grows pechay, mustasa, and Chinese cabbage all year long.

Naturally grown ampalaya in Tivat, Montenegro.

“Planting in a place with four seasons is not easy. Before springtime, you need to sow your seeds early and keep them in a warm and sunny place in order for you to have healthy seedlings,” Odzic said adding that there are also sensitive seeds that one must plant in the right sowing period.

Odzic does not apply any chemicals or pesticides to the plants. For pests like aphids, stink bugs, and ants, she either uses neem oil or formulates a solution that is made of one liter of water, one tablespoon of baking soda, one tablespoon of oil, and a bit of dishwashing soap. While she also spreads wooden ash around the plants to fight slugs. 

Christine Mallon-Odzic, 31, a native of Iloilo City, found a home in Tivat, Montenegro where she now builds a new life with her growing family. She grows Philippine and other Asian veggies to remind her of her roots.

Everything she grows is for her household’s consumption, but she shares some produce with other Asian friends who are also welcome to visit the backyard garden during the harvest season. Odzic plans to plant varieties of heirloom tomatoes and some of the hottest peppers in the world next. 

Photos from Christine Mallon-Odzic.

For more information, visit Bahay Kubo sa Montenegro or Pinay Kitchen in Montenegro.

This article appeared in Agriculture Magazine’s October 2022 issue.

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Vina Medenilla
Vina Medenilla is a content producer for Agriculture Monthly magazine. She is a graduate from Miriam College with a bachelor’s degree in Communication. Fashion, photography, and travel are some of the things she loves. For her, connection with nature is essential to one’s life.

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