A Yucatan Tradition: Making Pib for Day of the Dead

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:

source: http://infomediatelevision.blogspot.mx/2011/05/mucbipollo.html

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!”

 

El Pescado Ciego

Friday night, I got to try a restaurant I’ve been curious to check out for months now.

I met up with my friend Nadia and her boyfriend’s cousin Jorge (yes, another Jorge… there are many) at El Pescado Ciego, a small seafood restaurant on Avenida Nader in downtown Cancun. I was trying not to spend too much so we’d have money to go to Isla Mujeres on Sunday, so I ordered the cheapest things on the menu. It was the best decision I could have made because the result was delicious!

The atmosphere was beautiful, with a palapa out front and fun yet elegant decor inside. It had the same “upscale Caribbean hippie” vibe (I made that up) that many other bars and restaurants on Avenida Nader are known to have. I found the ambiance to be quite romantic, but I was surprised to see that almost every table was groups of friends, not couples.

(Please forgive the poor picture quality. El Pescado Ciego has very “romantic” lighting.)

To start, churritos with cream cheese dip. If I weren't on a diet, these would have been gone in 5 minutes.

They also gave us these shots of seafood soup. It was good, but not as flavorful as the shrimp soup at Muellecito (a post for another day).

My lobster quesadillas with mango sauce, a new favorite!

My "Dragonfly" Taco (fried shrimp): very good, but the sauce was a little overpowering

Jorge's Catch of the Day: very garlic-y, but that's how I like it

Nadia's tuna: I hate tuna so I didn't try it, but Jorge and Nadia gave it rave reviews.

Nadia, Jorge and me! Why do I look so frightened in this photo?

Overall, everything that we had was very tasty, but the only dishes that really stood out to me were the churritos and the lobster quesadilla. (Granted, I have very simple tastes.) I will be back for those!

5 Year Anniversary Surprise

Can you still celebrate dating anniversaries once you’re married?

Well, we did it anyway.

On Friday we had our 5 year dating anniversary, and Jorge wanted to take me on a dinner date to a surprise location. I wore my favorite yellow dress because I don’t get many fancy occasions for it.

I was really excited when we got there and I found out we were going to Elefanta, an upscale Indian restaurant at Plaza La Isla. We had a table under a palapa by the lagoon, which was lovely. About halfway through the meal, we felt water misting our feet. The waiter explained it’s their bug repellant spray to protect the legs. Pretty cool.

We’d never had Indian food before, but it was DELICIOUS. We started with potato and cheese naan bread, then had saffron and cheese shrimp and some kind of amazing spiced chicken for the main course.

I didn’t take many pictures because who wants to take pictures on a date? Plus “romantic lighting” isn’t very photo-friendly. You can check out Elefanta’s photo gallery, though. It’s a really, really beautiful restaurant.

All I have for you is a shot of my view of the lagoon:

I love upscale restaurants, hotels, etc, but for some reason I always feel out of place in fancy venues. What if the waiters find out that I’m not rich like the rest of the customers? That we had to save up for months for this dinner? That this is my only (sort of) expensive dress? That we took the city bus to get here? Totally irrational. But I love going anyway 🙂

 

**Update: By “popular” demand, here’s a picture of my favorite yellow dress:

Splash! Restaurant in Cancun’s Hotel Zone

Right after our afternoon at the beach last Sunday, Jorge and I took the Hotel Zone bus to a restaurant we’d been wanting to try called Splash. It’s located right on the lagoon (by where Basic nightclub used to be, for all you partiers) and has some pretty decent prices!

My lettuce tacos (shrimp, salmon/caviar, and tuna)

Jorge with his michelada

We spent $260 pesos total (several tacos each, drinks and tip).

Jorge says we have to return because this place has “The 3 B’s… Bueno, Bonito y Barato“!

Taste of Playa 2011

I’d been looking forward to this past Sunday for a year now, and I was not disappointed!

Jorge, Viri, Juan and I all made our way south to Playa del Carmen for the annual Taste of Playa culinary event, sponsored by Diamonds International. For those who haven’t had the chance to explore the Riviera Maya, the city of Playa del Carmen is well-known for its charming bars and restaurants. The entire Quinta Avenida (Fifth Avenue) is filled with all kinds of dining venues, ranging from casual sandwich shops to chic upscale restaurants. Local bars are open-air, ideal for people watching while indulging in a margarita or artisan beer.

At Taste of Playa,  the best of all these unique options come together at Parque Fundadores, set on the Quinta Avenida right by the Caribbean Sea. Guests lined up to purchase “Playa Pesos”, each costing $10 pesos (roughly $1 USD) each. With just 1 Playa Peso, you can purchase some mouthwatering tacos, a cold cocktail, a spicy ceviche or even sushi!

We each wandered around on our own, sampling from almost every vendor we saw. The favorites among our small group were the crunchy tacos and some chocolate-covered cream puffs. I’m always surprised how the simplest dishes often turn out to be the best.

After an hour or two of culinary inspiration at Taste of Playa, our small group walked up and down Quinta Avenida to enjoy the laid-back vibe of Playa del Carmen before heading back to Cancun (where we immediately went to a taco joint, surprise surprise).

Since a picture’s worth a thousand words, I’ll let the slideshow do most of the talking. Try not to drool onto your keyboard:

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the Mexico Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared here are completely my own.

Taste of Playa Returns to the Riviera Maya!

I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve already got my calendar marked for November 20. The city of Playa del Carmen will once again be hosting its annual “Taste of Playa” event, where guests can sample the favorite dishes and drinks from the city’s most popular bars and restaurants all in one stunning beachfront location.

My long-time readers may remember that Jorge and I got to go last year, and it was an amazing day filled with beer, cupcakes, shrimp and Caribbean views. (They obviously know exactly how to win over this couple!)

In my excitement to go back, I scored an interview with friend, Playa del Carmen resident and fellow blogger Michele Kinnon from Life’s a Beach, who has helped organize the event ever since its beginnings. I love her insights on PDC cuisine!

Michele, how are you involved in Taste of Playa?

My husband Rob and I are proud to be corporate sponsors for Taste of Playa. This is our third year supporting this community event. As expats and business owners in Playa del Carmen, we are always looking for ways to give back to the community that has given us so much. Taste of Playa is exactly the kind of event we try to ally ourselves with as it truly celebrates the diversity of the region. For the first two incarnations of Taste of Playa I had the role of Marketing Chairperson for the event, a job that I found challenging but rewarding in many ways. I got to work with an amazing group of women, all business owners in Playa del Carmen and all committed to promoting the Riviera Maya as a tourism destination.

How did Taste of Playa begin?

The idea for Taste of Playa was conceived in 2009 by a group of Playa del Carmen businesswomen. We were looking for a way to draw positive attention to all the wonderful things the Riviera Maya had to offer, ultimately increasing tourism to the area. This new culinary event was the culmination of hundreds of hours of planning and preparation volunteered by the Executive Committee and dozens of committed and passionate sub-committee members.

Why do you think this event has become so popular so quickly?

I think the event has been so successful because it appeals to many different people for many different reasons. For locals, it is a fun, affordable festival to enjoy with family and friends. For foodies it is a chance to scope out new restaurants and get some face-time with favorite chefs and restaurant owners. For tourists it is a destination event, one which many people now plan their travel around, that offers the opportunity to try the signature dishes of 40 plus local eateries all in one place, something they would likely not be able to do within the span of the average vacation week. For everyone, the event is a way to try great cuisine at a very accessible price whether you go for the VIP pass or buy individual tasting tickets.

What makes Taste of Playa different from other culinary events throughout the world?

What distinguishes Taste of Playa from many other food festivals and culinary events is its diversity. There is no one cuisine that represents The Riviera Maya. Certainly, we are in Mexico and Mexican and Maya cuisines are well represented here in hundreds of restaurants and eateries. What is different here is that unlike in most cities, which are divided up into neighborhoods such as Chinatown and Little Italy, all of the chefs and restauranteurs who have brought their unique cultures and cuisines to the Riviera Maya are working and living side by side with chefs from the local Mexican community. Walk down La Quinta in Playa del Carmen and you will find an Indian restaurant next door to a sushi joint, next to a taqueria, an Italian pizza place, an Argentinean steak house and so on. It’s like a great big culinary melting pot and Taste of Playa was designed to reflect just that!




What kind of cuisine can we expect to see at Taste of Playa this year?

As the Riviera Maya has a culturally diverse population made up of people from all over the world, we can expect that the cuisines represented at Taste of Playa 2011 will be equally diverse! Expect to see influences from France, Italy, Thailand and Spain mixing it up with traditional and contemporary Mexican cuisine! Many of the participants from years past will be returning but we also have quite a few new restaurants coming on board. I’m excited to see what they will bring to the table!


Thanks, Michele!

All photos courtesy of tasteofplaya.com

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the Mexico Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared here are completely my own.

A Taste of Playa

This past Sunday was the annual Taste of Playa event in Playa del Carmen.

The event was held at Parque Fundadores, a beautiful area by the beach. Many of Playa del Carmen’s best bars and restaurants set up their own table, serving samples of their more popular dishes and drinks.

I’d been dying to go for months, but Jorge wasn’t as excited about it. Good husband that he is, he agreed to tag along. By the end of the day, I think Jorge was more excited than I was!

 

First, we went to buy our “Taste of Playa Pesos”. This little chips costs $10 pesos (or $1 US) each. With these, you could buy a drink or sample dish from the different restaurants and bars.

Jorge and I were able to try quite a lot for $200 pesos ($20 US)… not too bad!

Fried shrimp with sauce, and a side of rice with lime

"Sex on the Bar" by Luna Blue... best drink ever?? I may or may not have had 3 of these...

Cupcakes by Turtle Bay Cafe and Bakery ... God bless you

Red velvet cupcake

Overall, such a fun event! I was surprised by the number of expats I saw there (probably way more expats than Mexicans!)

We’ll definitely be back next year.