For Day of the Dead, Mexicans set up altars in their homes so their deceased loved ones can come by to eat and drink. In the state of Yucatan, they make a special dish known as “mucbipollo”, “pibipollo” or simply “pib”, some of which is set on the Day of the Dead altars and some of which is set aside for the living family to eat.
I got to see the process up close this time when Jorge and I traveled to Yucatan to celebrate the holiday with his family. Jorge’s grandmother (known by the entire family as “Mami”) showed me the process of making pib at her home, and I even got to make some myself!
The whole process began in Mami’s backyard, where she has her stove set up to cook the tomato sauce for the pib.
Mami had hired a local woman to help her with some of the harder tasks. I chatted with her while she was kneading the dough for the pib, asking her how she spends her time. She told me that she works doing odd jobs for whoever needs help around town. That morning she had helped a neighbor kill some chickens, and in the afternoon helping Jorge’s grandmother make pib.
She even added a popular Yucatan ingredient called “axiote”, telling me it was used to add a little flavor and a lot of color to the pib dough. There was quite a bit of axiote, and it had to be folded into the dough starting in the middle to keep it from getting all over the table.
Jorge’s grandmother thought we could use even more axiote…
Once the dough, chicken and tomato sauce were ready, we went from the backyard into the kitchen where my mother-in-law showed me how to put the pibs together. Jorge’s aunt and uncle were on chicken-shredding duty while the rest of us made the shell for the pibs and layered in all the ingredients.
Mami and her assistant had separated the the dough into balls. The bigger one on the bottom is to make the bowl of the pib, and the smaller one on top is to create the lid. As you can see, we had quite a few pibs to make!
The first step is to lay out the strips of banana leaves. My mother-in-law was showing me her method, when HER mother-in-law stepped in to make it just right. I guess you never stop learning from your mother-in-law!
My mother-in-law showed me her technique for shaping the bowl of the pib, using the knuckles to get just the right shape.
Once the bowl was made, I put in all the ingredients. Jorge kept telling me to add more chicken, while I was trying to get as much tomato sauce in there as possible. There was also a family debate over what to do with the chicken bones. My mother-in-law told me to just put in strips of meat and no bones, while Uncle Tony insisted every pib needs a bone or two inside to chew on later. When the sauce and chicken are almost to the top, it’s time to put in a few leaves of cilanto, tomato slices, onion slices and a sliced egg.
Next, you flatten the smaller ball of dough and use a banana leaf to cover the top of the bowl as a lid. Then (my favorite part because I like to get messy), you slather some more tomato sauce all over the outside of the pib.
Finally, wrap the pib in strips of banana leaves then tie the whole thing up to get it ready to bake.
Tah-dah! My masterpiece!
Here are all of our pibs wrapped up and ready to go to the town baker. Traditionally, pibs are cooked by digging a hole in the ground to make an underground oven, but since Jorge’s grandmother gets tired doing all that extra work, she decided to have them taken to the town baker.
And who better to take the pibs to the baker than Uncle Tony in his tricycle taxi! A popular form of public transportation in Yucatan towns.
The bakery was not what I was expecting! Here’s the outside (complete with birds cages, a Virgin Mary and some kids at play):
But the actual oven was in a small shack behind the bakery. The town baker had his hands full with trays and trays of pibs from many local families. He never wrote anything down, so I have no idea how he kept track of which pibs belonged to which family, but he did. The oven itself had kind of an igloo-shape and enough room for many trays of pib! Like a giant pizza oven.
Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of the finished product when we got the pibs back in the evening, so here’s a photo taken from online:
While we were eating our pibs in the kitchen that night, the blender suddenly turned on for 5 seconds, then back off. Jorge’s grandmother said, “Oh look, los muertos came to eat pib with us!”
Jorge and I don’t have the most “sophisticated palates” (a term for all the foodies out there). At our house, we eat a lot of quesadillas, sandwiches, cereal, fruit and salads. Our oven is used exclusively for storing tupperware. We (ok, “I”) spend a significant portion of our food budget on ordering sushi.
That being said, I know a good bagel when I try one, and Jorge can taste-test a beer with the best of ‘em.
This past Sunday was our 4th year in a row attending Taste of Playa, an annual event in Playa del Carmen where the city’s best restaurants and bars set up stands to serve their favorite recipes. Taste of Playa gives Jorge and I the chance to be “foodies for a day”, pretending we know what we’re talking about as we feast on fancy french desserts, oh-so-trendy reinvented Mexican cuisine, artisanal chocolates, organic recipes, and some of the strongest alcoholic beverages I’ve ever had.
My favorite item were the macaroons by Café Antoinette! Jorge and I tried a maracuyá (passion fruit) flavored macaroon, and it was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. We also split a jamaica macaroon (pronounced “ha-MY-ca”, it’s the Spanish word for a flavor taken from hibiscus flower… popular for Mexican drinks) which was pretty spectacular, too.
As for the rest, I’ll let the pics speak for themselves!
Anyone who lives in Cancun knows that locals love nothing better than to complain about how little culture the city has to offer. We’re only 40 years old, and the entire state of Quintana Roo used to only be populated by a few scattered Mayan villages. Over 90% of Cancun residents are originally from other parts of Mexico (and the world), so we’re still trying to figure out who we are. Personally, I kind of love being part of something new and exciting where I can be an important element in forming the city’s culture and legacy. (I flatter myself by considering this little blog to be part of the Cancun cultural evolution process.)
At any rate, this past Sunday after church I talked Jorge into going on a field trip. We walked over to the intersection of Calle Labna and Avenida Tulum in downtown Cancun because I had seen from a distance some cool murals and graffiti on the walls surrounding a water tower. Jorge, my camera and I found a whole lot more than we expected!
First were the painted trees. I have no idea who painted them, or when, or why, but they’re pretty cool. Here are just a few…
Two of the walls surrounding the water tower were covered in graffiti. Have blank canvas, will tag.
Normally I’m not a fan of vandalism, but I have to admit I kinda love all the color.
But the other 2 walls have the best part of all: the Mayan murals. It was pretty spectacular. Dare I say the best day of my camera’s short life thus far.
And the most awesome element: the skull helmets. We need to make this the latest fashion trend. Who’s with me?
For more of my pics of the Mayan mural and to find out where it came from, click through to my latest blog post on Cancun360.mx.
I’ve been gone from the blog awhile… lots of work, lots of trips, but now I’m back. It looks like I have finally caught up on all my work. (Famous last words, amiright?) If you want to catch up on what I’ve been doing, I post mostly to my CancunGringa Instagram account now. Still, I really miss blogging and hopefully now I can get back into it.
Back to the blog post at hand… A few weeks ago, Jorge and I had a lunch date! We used to go on dates all the time, but lately we’ve been hanging out more with friends on the weekends. We decided to revisit Fish Fritanga, where we had gone once with my blogging buddy Ang and her fiance (now husband!) and loved. Fish Fritanga is a little bit expensive, in my opinion, but it has the best seafood I’ve ever had in Cancun. It tastes just like the freshly caught seafood we eat with Jorge’s family in Chabihau, Yucatan, so it must be authentic!
It’s located in the Hotel Zone, about halfway between Plaza La Isla and Plaza Kukulcan on the lagoon side. From the street it looks like a tiny takeout place, but if you head downstairs you’ll find the main restaurant and bar area with palapas on the sand and views of the Nichupte Lagoon.
It looks empty in the pictures (and it was), but that’s only because Jorge and I got there early. The big lunch crowd came in as we were finishing our meal, around 2 pm. Since we got there before the crowd, we picked a table right by the lagoon/marina/mangrove and got to watch the little fish swimming around.
We started off with some guac…
And I couldn’t resist asking for a mojito, which had some words of wisdom to offer:
"A veces no hacer nada es hacer algo" (Sometimes doing nothing is doing something)
For the main course, Jorge got his usual ceviche, while I got my favorite: chilpachole soup!
If you’re ever in Cancun, Fish Fritanga is one of my top restaurant recommendations. (My 3rd favorite!) Authentic Mexican seafood, great outdoor atmosphere, and an easy-to-find location right in the middle of the Hotel Zone.
Work is fiiiinally starting to slow down, and I’m back to share some more of my adventures with you guys! Two weeks ago, Jorge and I got to go to Isla Mujeres with some friends for a fun Sunday afternoon. The other two couples with us weren’t as familiar with the island as we were, so we got to show them some of our favorite spots.
We also stayed until dark, which is something we’ve never done before.
First was my favorite part: the ferry ride! Seriously, for the absolute best Caribbean Sea views, grab a camera, get a seat on the top deck of the Ultramar ferry and thank me later.
Next was a little walk through downtown Isla Mujeres. I love all the different kinds of island transportation.
And of course, I tried to get a few pics of the downtown Isla Mujeres lifestyle. I’m working more on getting pics of people and things instead of just scenery and alcoholic beverages…..
For lunch we went to my favorite place: Jax! Upper story terrace with ocean views. Sadly I only got 1 pic because I was too busy stuffing my face with a Coke float and ceviche. (It was ridiculously hot that day.)
After lunch, of course we walked up the street to Playa Norte (North Beach). I really need to stop going to Isla Mujeres on weekends. So. Many. Boats.
We spread out our sarongs in the shade of a palm tree and took turns going into the ocean to cool off. As the conversation flowed, we found out that one couple used to live in the same apartment the other couple lives in now. (It was the first time the two couples had met.) Cancun is really, really small.
A few of use bought some ankle bracelets from a vendor walking along the beach. Here’s mine (still wearing it now)!
A few hours later, we saw the sun going down over the water and moved closer to shore. This is really sad, but I had no idea that you could see the sun set from Playa Norte. Cancun sits on the eastern coast of Mexico, so we can see sunrises but not many sunsets. Isla Mujeres is an exception.
Once it started to get dark, we walked back downtown to one of Jorge’s favorites: the delicious and super-cheap Los de Pescado, a fish taco and burrito joint right by the main square. Then it was back to Cancun on the ferry, where we came within inches of crashing into a pirate ship. (I can’t really elaborate much more on that story… it’s exactly what it sounds like.)
Hasta luego, Isla Mujeres!
I haven’t been posting regularly for a very long time now, but your patience will be well rewarded!
As many of you know, I’m now working as a copywriter and blogger for Sandos resorts. One of the many perks of my new job is that they’re sending me on trips to all their Mexico resorts to get to know the hotels. In early May, they opened the new Sandos Finisterra Los Cabos, which is where I am right now! I’ve never been to Los Cabos before… my first time on the west coast of anything, and my first time seeing the Pacific Ocean.
Get ready for some pics!
I’ll start with pics of the resort itself. It’s one of the first all inclusives in Cabo San Lucas, and it has an amazing location on a hill between the ocean and the Cabo San Lucas marina. I’m in love with it. With its desert-style gardens and huge rocks, it’s a far cry from Cancun.
My first morning I got invited out on an ATV tour through the Baja California desert. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done! We played around on the desert then at the beach.
Not a real wink... maybe too much sun? haha
Saturday night… a sunset sailboat cruise to Land’s End Arch. I felt like a Kardashian.
Full moon rising at sunset
The resort’s sales director told me and my coworker Enrique that there was a beach formed under the arch. This only happens every few years, so we had to go the next morning to make sure we could see it before it disappeared for another 6 years or so. First we had a boat drop us off at the nearby Lovers’ Beach:
Then we crossed to the neighboring Divorce Beach. At the back of the beach was a thin strip of sand along a rock wall that led to the arch. The problem: The waves would crash against the rock, then fall back and expose the sand. We had to time it perfectly and sprint through the temporary mini-beach, but it was worth it because we got to be one of the lucky few who can say they stood under the Land’s End Arch:
I have 5 more days here, so there will be more photos to come! In the meanwhile, I’m posting a few pics a day on the Gringation Cancun Facebook page.
After spending the last 4 out of 5 weeks “on the road”, I finally get to spend most of June here at home in Cancun. Everything has been pretty surreal since leaving my office job, with a week in my hometown of Richmond, two weeks at Playa del Carmen resorts for work (very cool, but pretty lonely) and another week back in the States surrounded by family.
This morning I woke up feeling sad and happy at the same time… happy to finally be able to settle in to my new everyday life of writing, Starbucks and hanging out with my dogs, but also sad to leave my family. My middle sister Sarah just got married over the weekend in Asheville, NC, and it was a pretty awesome mountain wedding. I spent the whole week shopping with my oldest sister in Charlotte, meeting Sarah’s friends at her bachelorette party and going out with (almost) all my cousins in downtown Asheville. (Side note: If you’re a fan of beer, mountains, hipsters and an overall great time, I recommend Asheville.)
Stealing a Facebook photo from my sister's beautiful wedding! There's me just to the left of the bride... not sure what I'm looking at.
Then suddenly, today I’m thrown back to my little makeshift office surrounded by the first downpour of Cancun’s rainy season, with Jorge working extra evening hours the next few days. After such a crazy week surrounded by my favorite people, now I just feel alone again.
I’ll get over it in a few days. This always happens when I get back from a trip back home. Every trip, I feel like I want to move back to the States to be around family, but then Jorge reminds me that everyone in my family lives in different cities and only gets together like that on holidays and special occasions. Living there wouldn’t be the same as visiting.
It’s probably time to call up some Cancun friends for dinner to get out of this slump… if the rain ever stops!
I know… I made a huge announcement a month ago then dropped off the face of the earth. Well, I’m still making frequent updates on my Facebook page so my followers know what’s been going on, but the blog has been lonely since mid-April!
April 25 was my last day at the travel agency, so I went back home to Virginia for a week to visit family. I even had my first official day “on the job” blogging from a Starbucks with my dad in my hometown of Richmond (tried to get a people-free picture, but as it turns out Starbucks is a popular place):
Ever since I got back to Cancun, I’ve been playing catch-up with my new jobs. I love every single one (there are 3… well, 1 big one and 2 small-ish ones) but I’ve had a hard time figuring out my new schedule with all the changes going on. Haven’t gotten into a groove yet, although I do love FINALLY being able to blog from my favorite Cancun Starbucks terrace:
Since Monday, I’ve been staying at Sandos Caracol resort in the Riviera Maya. My biggest job is the copywriter and blogger for Sandos resorts, so I get to stay at all their Mexico resorts over the next few months. I’ll be at Sandos Caracol through Friday, then at Sandos Playacar next week, then at Sandos Cancun in June. It’s kind of like a vacation, although I am mostly working. My “office” changes a little every day:
It’s been my dream for a long time to work from resorts and blog while on frequent vacations, but oh boy is it crazy. Even when I’m supposed to be relaxing, I keep feeling like I should be writing something. The brain needs an “off” switch!
We also cleared out the storage room at home to create a new office. I’ve only gotten to use it for 1 week (and won’t use it again until sometime in June), but that’s ok because right now it looks like this:
Not glamorous at all. Lawn furniture, recycling crates and a cheap tablecloth do not an office make.
It’s been a whirlwind and it will continue to be a whirlwind, but hopefully over time I’ll get used to having numerous projects going on at once. A big new day planner has been my lifesaver in scheduling when and where to write everything I need to!
There have also been a few beach days in there plus a trip to Akumal I never wrote about. Soon, amigos!
“Why are you quitting a job that thousands of people would kill for?”
That’s what a friend told me last week, and the very sentence that has been haunting me for the past few days.
Ever since I graduated university in Cancun over 3 years ago, I’ve had the same great job as a copywriter for a large local travel agency. The pay is good (for Mexico, anyway), the hours are normal (hard to find in a tourist city), the coworkers are awesome, and it has never once stressed me out. It has been the one job that I do not wake up dreading to go to.
But as nice as it has been to have a safe office job, it’s not the reason that I moved to Cancun 8 years ago.
Thanks to this blog, I have gotten some exciting freelance work over the past few years. It’s been so thrilling to get my name out there as a blogger in paradise, and I started to realize that I was passionate about sharing Cancun with the world. Now, my dream of being able to blog full time from home has finally come true! And by “home”, I mean a mix of my house, several Starbucks locations and maybe even the beach.
I’m fully aware that blogging will probably be a lot more work and a lot less predictability.
But ya know what? It will also be a lot more fun.
You can work from a laptop in the ocean, right?
Thanks to all of my readers for the unbelievable support in making this possible. Y’all are the best. I will definitely keep everyone posted on the cool work that I’ll be doing.
It’s time for this gringa to work hard and play hard!
During our trips to the village of Chabihau, we love to stop by and visit Tía Ofelia and Tío Cance for some timbas and machacados. (They’re not really tíos. They’re second cousins.) They own a little shop right by the entrance into town, with sand floors and 3 tables.
This trip, I decided to document the process because I haven’t seen these anywhere else, although I’m sure they exist somewhere.
Jorge and I spotted the mamey fruit sitting on the right side of the fruit shelf, so he opted for a timba de mamey while I chose the healthier machacado de mamey.
First, Ofelia scoops the fruit into a glass.
Then mashes it up with a mazo (wooden stick used in the kitchen for mashing things… that’s my official definition)
Next (my favorite part), Cance gets out the ice shaver…
…and puts a block of shaved ice into each glass.
Ofelia then pours a little vanilla into the mix.
The next part is what sets the timbas apart from the machacados: Jorge’s timba gets a sizeable dose of La Lechera cream, while my machacado gets zip.
To top it all off, another scoop of shaved ice!
Aaaand voila! The best beach snack ever.