In the latest installation of Bahay Kubo Kitchens, the gorgeous Stephanie Zubiri takes us to Bukidnon to discover what she loves about the province she calls home, and celebrates all its produce!
I first met Stephanie on assignment for a magazine article years ago. What attracted me to her the most was her truly effortless style and unpretentious way of talking about, creating, and serving food. She tells home cooks to “try to truly enjoy the process. Maybe not all meals will be elaborately prepared, some will be rushed, frozen, and reheated… but take the time regularly to really enjoy the process.”
Stephanie thinks of the time she takes to cook as therapeutic “me” time, and enjoys it with a glass of wine and music. She is a busy woman these days, as the editor-in-chief of Tatler Homes, while contributing to Travel+Leisure SEA and still has a newspaper column, while hosting online events and creating content for brands.
First and foremost, Stephanie is a mom of two boys, Sebi and Max, who keep her busy. To relax, she and her boys swim or cook together, or puttering around her rooftop herb garden or lunging around laughing and creating art. The lockdowns have taught her to celebrate small moments in a big way.
Like Stephanie, her boys enjoy going to Bukidnon and love everything nature has to offer, from seeing all animals, great and small, to tractor rides, long walks in the fields, and chasing chickens. She and her boys enjoy being close to nature. I interviewed Stephanie to ask her exactly what she loves about Bukidnon and all it has to offer.
What is your favorite thing about Bukidnon? What do you love about going there? How and why is Bukidnon special to you?
What is truly outstanding about Bukidnon is how lush everything is. Rolling hills, verdant mountains, and fertile valleys, it’s an incredibly beautiful place. It is home to seven different indigenous tribes making it rich in intangible cultural heritage. Above all, Bukidnon is home to me. It’s where I feel most relaxed, most myself. I’m really a farm girl at heart. Although I grew up in Manila, every summer, I would spend it there. And back then it took so long to get to our farm, that we would stay weeks and weeks. I grew up chasing chickens, walking through sugarcane fields, gnawing at fresh sugarcane, riding horses—not dressage style but proper ranchero style. I would even round up cattle with our cowboy Edison. It’s such a special place where we ground ourselves. Here, we can connect with nature in so many ways, whether that’s by hiking through the forests or growing vegetables, you really live one with the earth.
Can you recommend places to go for first timers to Bukidnon? Tourist spots? Spots you love?
Bukidnon is an adventure and eco-traveler’s dream! Mountain climbing, hiking, rafting… you name it! There are so many spots but definitely Mt. Kitanglad and Kitanglad National Park for nature lovers. The provincial capital of Malaybalay has a lovely zoo and park. Glamping and agro-tourism is picking up, too. Although I have never been, my sister-in-law Audrey recommended Taglucop Strawberry Hills for strawberry picking and a really fun family glamping experience.
What are your favorite crops from the area and why?
The fruits! I have never tasted pineapples sweeter than in Bukidnon. They are incredible! Bananas, too! They have wonderfully juicy and plump highland vegetable farms as well that produce very sweet bell peppers in particular. I love how adlai is also gaining popularity. It’s such a great grain.
Can you describe what local food is like? What is their cuisine? Any unique flavors?
It’s really very simple, it’s cowboy barbecue ihaw country. Our farm, however, does a really lovely soup using the banana pith and gata. It is so good!
Do you combine traditional (local) cooking in your everyday meals?
Definitely. I love coconut milk, local veggies like kangkong, okra, sigarilyas, and alugbati are some of our house staples. One of my favorite meals is just a simple alugbati and giniling soup. I add a little chili oil and I’m set! I also love a nice ampalaya salad or ensaladang talong. My kids love sinigang and fried fish with rice. I also make a mean adobo.