Songkran Festival Tampa: VIDEO and photos from Wat Mongkolratanaram!

มีความสุขปีใหม่ – Happy New (Thai) Year! I just came back from celebrating Songkran Festival Tampa and got a short video plus photos from Wat Mongkolratanaram. BUT! Before I get to those, I would love for you to learn more about Songkran’s history, customs and traditions beyond the multi-day big fun water fight 😉 It is, after all, Cultural Tidbits Monday on LatinAbroad!

Songkran Festival Tampa, water fights

Songkran water fights escalating at Tampa’s Thai Temple

Songkran Festival Tampa sign

Songkran Festival in Tampa this past weekend

Thai New Year: Songkran Festival history

Songkran, which literally means “astrological passage” and comes from the Sanskrit word “saṃkrānti,” is the festival that marks Thai New Year (Wikipedia). Currently, it is celebrated annually between April 13 – 15 — but that wasn’t always the case.

Back in ancient times, a new year was marked by the first sign of waning of the moon in the first month of the lunar calendar (around late November). For this reason, dates were never fixed. Then, King Rama V made history by changing Thai New Year dates twice — sticking to April 1st in 1888 (

You thought they would be done switching the New Year date on the poor Thai people by then though, right…? But nope! In 1940, shortly after Thailand became a constitutional monarchy, New Year was to be celebrated at the beginning of the Gregorian calendar: January 1st.

Songkran Festival history, King Chulalongkorn the Great

King of Siam Rama V, also known as Chulalongkorn The Great, circa 1880

After the switch though, Songkran Festival became a National Holiday and, even today, it is still known as Thai New Year. Thus, one could say that Thais have about 2-3 different New Year dates and celebrations, depending on their background: January 1st, April 13-15, and late January – February (Chinese New Year).

Songkran Festival customs and traditions

Despite the different New Year dates throughout the centuries, most traditional celebrations are held in April. Why is that? As Songkran customs and traditions include the visitation and honoring of elders, sand pagoda building, gift exchanges, and the ubiquitous water splashing, it is better to celebrate during the hottest month of the year. Not only are the months of January and February are too cold, but they are also quite busy in rural areas, as it is harvest season.

Other customs and traditions we observed during this year’s Songkran Festival Tampa included a parade to lead a Buddha Statue, the subsequent clockwise circling of the Main Temple (3 times), and the Pundit leading chants as sprinkled perfumed water and flower petals to the Buddha statues, monks, and elders.

Songkran Festival Tampa, monk blessing

Monk blessings at Songkran Festival Tampa

Songkran Festival Tampa, water splashing

WATER SPLASHING! I mean blessing

After the traditional processions, everybody is encouraged to sprinkle each other with the perfumed water used to cleanse the Buddhas, as this is considered a blessing, good fortune and health for the New Year. As you will judge by the following Wat Mongkolratanaram photos and video, I shall have a quite prosperous 2014-2015! 😉

Songkran Festival Tampa VIDEO and photos!

Before processions began, we had a wonderful USD $5 lunch in the peaceful, riverfront grounds of Wat Mongkolratanaram. What’s really cool is that they have a massive amount of options: from 4-5 different types of curries to aromatic noodle soups and Thai desserts! A full review of the wonderful Sunday meals at this Thai Temple will follow on a future post, though. Now, onto the Songkran Festival Tampa video and more photos from Wat Mongkolratanaram grounds! 😀

^^ just a teaser! Longer one coming up soon 😉

Songkran Festival Tampa, offering carving

Songkran Festival fruit offering carving

Songkran Festival Tampa, Thai sign

Can someone translate for me? 🙂

Songkran Festival photos, outdoor altar

Songkran Festival outdoor altar – so beautiful

Songkran Festival photos, water-blurred altar

Water-blurred Songkran Festival altar

Songkran Festival photos, Tampa Thai Temple grounds

Altar at the beautiful grounds of Tampa’s Thai Temple, Wat Mongkolratanaram

Songkran Festival photos, inside the temple

Inside Tampa’s Buddhist Temple: beautiful altar

Songkran Festival Tampa, Thai temple façade

Façade of Wat Mongkolratanaram. Hard to believe we’re in the middle of Florida!

Have you ever celebrated the Songkran Festival? Where in the world? 🙂

Three Kings Day: Epiphany customs, traditions around the world

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year again! Indeed, Christmas around the world is not over yet: there are several countries still celebrating the festive season this month. Case in point? Most of Latin America, Spain, and any other country that celebrates Three Kings Day on January 6th. Which is why I’m introducing you to Epiphany customs and traditions for Cultural Tidbits Monday this week..

Epiphany customs and traditions, Brooklyn

Three Kings Day parade in Brooklyn, New York by Timothy Krause, Flickr

Three Kings Day: Epiphany customs and traditions around the world

Puerto Rico: naturally, I must start with Tree Kings Day customs and traditions in my island. For kids, it is a major day: like the second coming of Santa Claus. Many will gather grass in shoe boxes and place them either under their beds or under their Christmas trees to feed the Kings’ camels — think of it like leaving cookies for Santa — the night of January 5th. Then, on Epiphany morning, they run under their beds or Christmas trees to find more gifts they asked for.

Epiphany customs and traditions, grass for camels

Kids picking up grass for the Kings’ camels by Inaki Castro

Italy: I have chosen this country to be next in our list because it shares many Epiphany customs and traditions with Latin America. Like many Latinos, Italians don’t celebrate the coming of Santa Claus on December 25th. Rather, they celebrate the day when Tree Wise Men showered baby Jesus with gifts, 12 days after Christmas. Furthermore, it is not the Three Kings who bring the gifts to the children: but La Befana – an old lady on a broomstick, who fills stockings and homes with gifts the night before (January 5th).

Epiphany customs and traditions, La Befana

Dozens of “Befanas” hanging from a shop’s roof by Simone Zucchelli, Flickr. I can’t believe they mean Christmas in Italy… I just think of Halloween instead!

Spain: it was our Conquistadors who brought not only the Three Kings Day celebration, but also the roscones to the New World. Better known as Rosca de Reyes throughout Latin America, the Spanish tradition is to stuff the cake (“roscon”) with a small baby Jesus or toy, as well as a dry fava bean. Then, back at the Epiphany banquet, whoever finds the toy is crowned King or Queen of the party–while the unfortunate soul who finds the dry bean instead has to pay for next year’s celebrations [Wikipedia].

Another Three Kings Day tradition in Spain is for children to fill shoes with barley and hay for the kings’ camels. Particularly, they hope to please Balthazar, as they believe he is the one who leaves the presents.

Epiphany customs and traditions, Roscón de Reyes

Roscón de Reyes by Juan Ramon Rodriguez, Flickr

Jordan & the West Bank/Palestine: Epiphany in the Middle East? Yes — and they go big. For instance, Coptic Jordanians and Palestinians have the Three Kings Day tradition of gathering by the thousands along the Jordan River in Amman or Jericho, where a parade and service take place. There, the Baptism of Jesus is represented by the blessing and splashing of water under a wooden cross. Additionally, priests carry olive leaves and sprinkle holy water to believers [].

Three Kings Day customs and traditions, Coptic Epiphany

Coptic Epiphany celebration on the Jordan River, Flickr Commons

Egypt: Coptic Christians celebrate the great Feast of Epiphany on a different day each calendar year, as they follow a special Coptic calendar. In 2014, for instance, it will be celebrated on January 19th. The major difference from Latin celebrations? It is a rather solemn day, where most go through intense fasting and cleansing. Holy water is used to bless many homes on this day.

Three Kings Day customs and traditions, Arabic Epiphany service

Coptic Epiphany service in Arabic by Custodiaterrasanta, Flickr Commons

England: the English have a similar Epiphany tradition of stuffing a fruitcake like the Spaniards, except they usually include other items (with other meanings). They also hold parades and open-air nativity scene recreations as well. More interestingly though, Epiphany in England used to be the equivalent of April Fool’s Day in America. I can’t imagine playing jokes on what many Latinos consider a “holy day” of sorts…

Three Kings Day customs and traditions, England

Epiphany open-air play in Yorkshire, UK by ierland.plein, Flickr

Mexico: and the fruitcake fiascoes continue! Mexican Rosca de Reyes is baked with a baby Jesus figurine inside…but! Whoever finds it isn’t a lucky King or Queen — instead, they are expected to host the Dia de la Candelaria party, which is celebrated as soon as February 2nd. Additionally, like in most Latin American countries, kids leave hay inside their shoes, expecting the 3 Kings will exchange it for gifts, on January 5th.

Epiphany customs and traditions, shoes and gifts

Shoes and gifts on Three Kings Day by Luis Jou Garcia, Flickr

That’s it for our Three Kings Day customs and traditions! If you are still in the festive spirit though, I recommend you check out my Christmas series, featuring the holidays of many other countries:

Christmas traditions around the world, PART 1

Christmas traditions around the world, PART 2

La Parranda: My favorite Puerto Rican Christmas tradition

Got more Three Kings Day, Epiphany customs and traditions? Comment below!

Puerto Rican Christmas traditions: Navidades en Puerto Rico!

Welcome to Cultural Tidbits Monday! Today I’m sharing a post about Puerto Rican Christmas traditions by Sara Moyano, co-proprietor of Hacienda Moyano. I’ve talked about our Christmas traditions in the past, including our famous parrandas, but Sara goes a little deeper. Enjoy! 🙂

Puerto Rican Christmas food

Puerto Rican Christmas food sampler

Puerto Rican Christmas traditions

In the northern hemisphere the leaves have changed to their short lived majestic autumn colors, the air is crisper and Halloween is just round the corner.  It is hard to believe 2013 is almost over.  But before we think about the New Year, let’s talk about where you are going to spend your holidays.  Some people like to stay close to home and spend time with loved ones. Some people like to go to places where the winter weather makes it look and feel like those beautiful snowy scenes on old Christmas cards.  And a few lucky ones will choose to come to Hacienda Moyano in Naguabo, Puerto Rico!

Nobody celebrates the holiday season like the people of Puerto Rico. From the food to the music, everything about Puerto Rican Christmas is special. The holiday season lasts from Thanksgiving until January 6, the day of the Epiphany or Three Kings Day. It is important to note that it is also the beginning of carnival season in many cultures.  At Hacienda Moyano, we always find a reason to celebrate and Christmas is the best reason of all.

The cooks are already putting their orders in for the “viandas” (vegetables) that they will need to make “pasteles”.  Pasteles are a staple of the Puerto Rican holiday menu, a very labor intensive dish that is a must on every table.  They are made with a masa of green bananas and plantains, “yucca” (taro), and calabazas (pumpkin) and wrapped in a scorched banana leaf.  The combinations of flavors can include: chickpeas, raisins, olives, capers, beef, chicken, pork, fish or “jueyes” (land crabs), and are as endless as the family recipes that have been passed down for generations.

“Arroz con gandules” (rice and pigeon peas) is another staple of the holiday menu.  There is usually a smoked meat imparting its woodsy flavor, but the “sofrito” is the star of this simple dish.  And I say that with the outmost respect.  Cooking good rice is really an art and not as easy as it sounds.

Puerto Rican Christmas traditions, lechon

SEXY Puerto Rican lechon a la varita! By Angela Rutherford, Flickr

The star of the Puerto Rican Christmas table, however, is the “lechon” or pork.  Usually it is a “pernil” or fresh ham.  Again the recipes are as varied as the tastes and the origin of the family. Most cooks use “adobo mojado” or wet seasoning that consists of salt, pepper, oregano, vinegar and olive oil. Some families splurge and cook “lechon a la varita” or a pig roast on a homemade spit.  No matter what recipe you use it is usually the best thing on the table.

The day we roast a pig at Hacienda Moyano is a day to celebrate.  Everyone is up early, the “carbon” (coal) is started, the “ron caña” (Puerto Rican moonshine) is flowing early. The Medallas are cold. The pig has been seasoned at least the night before and it is rested and ready for its day view.  There is nothing that smells like Christmas in Puerto Rico than the smell of pork fat dripping on the smoldering charcoal.

And wait until you taste the “postres” (desserts). “Arroz con dulce” (rice pudding with spices and raisins), tembleque (a cold coconut custard with cinnamon), “dulce de papaya” (spiced candied papaya usually served with white cheese). These are just a few, there are so many more delicious sweet treats to enjoy during the Christmas holidays.

Oh, and how about the drinks, the “coquito” (coconut eggnog), is a tradition.  After a dinner of arroz con gandules, lechon, pasteles, postre y coquito, all you need is a “hamaca” (hammock) in the shade to take a “siesta”.  Or go to El Yunque for a hike.  The choice is yours because Puerto Rico does it better! Feliz Navidad from Hacienda Moyano! (even though it’s October — celebrate early! 😉 )

Have you experienced Puerto Rican Christmas traditions and food?

Have Books, Will Travel: 5 Books To Inspire You to Discover the Middle East

Welcome to a special edition of Cultural Tidbits Monday! Today we have the guest post “Have Books, Will Travel” — giving you a synopsis of 5 Middle Eastern books that will surely inspire you to travel to this fascinating region of the world. As you know, I fell in love with it and went on to study, live, and travel extensively throughout Egypt, Morocco, Israel, Palestine/West Bank, and Jordan for over 16 months. I hope we pique your interest as well!

have books, will travel: Egypt

carvings inside The Ramesseum mortuary temple in Luxor, Egypt

Have Books, Will Travel: Picks To Inspire You to Travel the Middle East

Middle Eastern nations such as Iraq, Turkey and Jordan have long inspired historic tales and prize-winning authors, as well as producing insightful non-fiction on subjects from art to exploration and cuisine. In its fine body of literature (both home-grown books and those written by others), the Middle East presents an enthralling image for any traveler wishing to explore for themselves – whether that’s with an off-road camel trek to discover the local cultures of Morocco, or a beach break in Sharm el Sheikh.

In little over a month’s time, the largest and most prestigious literary festival in the Middle East gets under way in Dubai, celebrating another year of the best in reading and writing in the region. In a city-state usually lauded for its superlative extravagance, this is the perfect opportunity for visitors to get to the heart of these culture-rich countries and dig deeper while on their holidays to Dubai.


have books, will travel: The Sultan's Seal novelThe Sultan’s Seal: A Novel by Jenny White

Anyone interested in the Ottoman Empire and its last days should pick up this acclaimed mystery from Jenny White, a professor of Anthropology who uses her detailed knowledge of the era to weave a richly descriptive tale that whisks the reader from the banks of the Bosphorus to the dangerous and fragrant gardens of the Sultan’s palace. When a mysterious young Englishwoman is murdered in Istanbul, a local magistrate steps in to investigate and gets caught up in a gripping tale of political intrigue, love and murder that will leave you itching to visit the city for yourself.


have books, will travel: Married to a BedouinMarried to a Bedouin by Marguerite van Geldermalsen

This incredible true story of love and adventure follows New Zealand-born nurse Marguerite van Geldermalsen, who met a local souvenir-seller in Jordan in the 1970s and fell in love. The subsequent story is a fascinating one – of how she married Mohammed Abdallah Othman, raised their children in an ancient cave in the famous sandstone cliffs of Petra, and integrated with his Manajah tribe and learned the Bedouin way of life. Her wry observations chronicle how she became grateful for the simpler, slower way of life even as she became a source of fascination for tribe members and outsiders alike. This wonderful tale of personal challenge and the triumph of love is a must for anybody interested in Petra, Bedouin traditions or the Middle East.


have books, will travel: The Map of Love by Ahdaf SoueifThe Map of Love: A Novel by Ahdaf Soueif

An epic romance to rival The English Patient, Ahdaf Soueif’s novel is set in the UK and Egypt as two stories of love unravel, 100 years apart. A young American woman enlists the help of an Egyptian translator to research her great-grandmother’s diaries, and starts to fall in love with the translator’s brother as she discovers her great-grandmother’s own parallel love story. Egypt is the thread that ties the book together, and the Booker Prize-shortlisted novel presents an unparalleled vision of  politics, colonial and modern life in Egypt.


have books, will travel: New Persian Cooking by Jila Dana-HaeriNew Persian Cooking by Jila Dana-Haeri

Persian cooking is relatively under the radar in the UK and North America, but this excellent cookbook attempts to change that. Dr. Jila Dana-Haeri’s recipes showcase sumptuous spices and fresh ingredients in recipes that are healthy and easy to make. She focuses on ingredients that readers will be able to find in the West, so they too can benefit from Persian cuisine’s health benefits and ancient flavors  From fish to pomegranates, and saffron to khoresht-e fesenjan, this book offers a different perspective on Iran, and the crisp photographs accompanying each recipe are enough to make anyone plan a culinary expedition.


have books, will travel: The Arabian Nights Tales from a Thousand and One NightsThe Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights by Various Authors

No literary homage to the Middle East could leave out this riotous and dazzling compendium of folk tales. From the famous stories of Aladdin, Sinbad and Ali Baba to lesser-known (but no less enthralling) tales, The Arabian Nights still holds up after hundreds of years. Legend says that the king’s wife Shahrazad told a story to her husband every night, never revealing the ending, to keep him intrigued and prevent his unseemly tradition of killing his wives after the first night.

New Year superstitions around the world, NYE traditions, and other facts

Happy New Year! 2013 is just around the corner and, in celebration, this week’s Cultural Tidbits Monday will be all about New Year superstitions around the world and other (mostly) unknown facts about New Year’s Day + its origins. Where was it first celebrated? What will people in other countries want to do tonight in order to increase their luck? What type of rituals must take place today in order to be prosperous in the next 12 months? Let’s find out!

New year superstitions around the world

Feliz Año Nuevo – Happy New Year! (Photo: Anvica)

New Year: (Mostly) Unknown Facts and (Debatable) Origins

* The most “unusual” fact about the New Year (on both the Roman and Gregorian calendar) is that, according to the Catholic Church, Jesus was circumcised on January 1st. Also, that’s when he got his name — on the 8th day after his birth. Say whaaa? Yeah, I said that too. [Wikipedia]

* New Year’s didn’t always fall on January 1st, though. In fact, the Western World started to celebrate it on January 1st in 1600 (Scotland). Until 1751, Great Britain and Wales celebrated it on March 25th, known as Lady Day.

For information about the changeover from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar and the effect on the dating of historical events etc., see Old Style and New Style dates [Wikipedia]

NYE Traditions and New Year Superstitions Around the World

* According to Chiff, one of the most popular New Year superstitions around the world is that if a tall, handsome dark man walks by your door right after midnight as a sign of good luck. Conversely, if the first person to walk into your home in the New Year happens to be a redhead, prepare for a lot of stress in the next 12 months! Funny eh?

* In Spain and many other Latin American countries, one of the top New Year superstitions is to eat 12 grapes at midnight — for good luck! The Portuguese eat 12 raisins instead.

* In the Philippines, children must jump A LOT at midnight in order to ensure that they will grow tall!

New Year superstitions around the world, Italian chiacchiere

New Year superstitions around the world: Italian chiacchiere, or Angel Wings, pastry — to be eaten on NYE! (Marcin Floryan, Wiki)

* In Italy, many eat the popular carnival pastry chiacchiere to have a sweet, lucky New Year.

* Other countries believe that eating anything colored green (like money) brings prosperity in the New Year. Same thing for any food that comes “full circle” — like donuts or pretzels.

More New Year superstitions around the world: Lucky recipes!

* In Greece, New Year Day is like a second Christmas. Children leave their shoes by the fireplace, in hopes that St. Basil will fill them with gifts. Indeed, January 1st is the day of St. Basil, a holiday in the country and one that is quite similar to December 25th.

* Many Latinos (myself included!) Like to wear either bright RED or YELLOW underwear for Año Viejo and Año Nuevo. They are thought to bring much fortune in the New Year.

* Listen up, travelers! If you wish for globetrotting in 2013, make sure you run around the block with your luggage. This will make your dream come true! 😉

New Year superstitions around the world, running with luggage

Running with a SILVER suitcase at midnight? Even luckier (Quan the Pooh!, Flickr)

* Make sure you wear silver or gold colors to your party. One of the wildly-popular New Year superstitions around the world is that these 2 colors bring a lot of luck to your household if you are wearing them as the clock hits midnight!

Got New Year superstitions from your country? Share them below!

Travel through Maya food and its history: Photo essay

Welcome to another edition of Cultural Tidbits Monday. Following my trip to Mexico, this week we travel through Maya food and its history. I will give you a brief overview of Yucatec Maya food (also known as Yucatán food), influences, popular ingredients, and dishes. All sprinkled with delicious photos. ¡Buen Provecho!

Maya food platter

Maya food platter from Valladolid (1yen, Flickr)

Maya food: Brief history

If any restaurant in Mexico claims to serve “pure” Maya cuisine, they are lying. Maya food from the Yucatán is a mix of Yucatec Maya, North African, Spaniard, and other European influences. The Peninsula was active in the Caribbean trade throughout colonial times, which transformed its cuisine.

Maize, or corn, is the centerpiece of Maya food. Every dish is made with, or comes with a side of, handmade corn tortillas. Mashed black, red, and pinto beans are also present in most Maya dishes. The way I see it, Yucatec Maya food is the type of Mexican food Americans recognize. Go visit any other region in Mexico and you’ll be surprised to see how different “Mexican food” can be!

Conversely, the further south you go, the less spicy/hot Mexican food is. Accordingly, Yucatán cuisine is rather mild. They do import hot sauces from all over the country though, so ask your server! 😉

Maya food banana leaves

Maya food wrapped in banana leaves (foodfreak, Flickr)

Chicken and seafood have always been eaten by the Maya, in addition to rabbits, deer, doves, pheasants, and pork after colonial times. These are cooked with chili peppersHabaneros, tomatoes, achiote (annatto seeds paste), wild onions, chayotes, and cucumbers.

Like in the Caribbean, fruits play a big role in Yucatán cuisine. Papaya, bananas, mamey, oranges, guava, avocados, guanabana, mangoes, and pineapple are some common ingredients. Moreoever, Middle Eastern spices such as cumin, coriander, and saffron are now part of Maya food! The end result? Subtle, yet full flavors. Think sweet and peppery.

Traditionally, the Maya would wrap their food with banana leaves and bake it in underground ovens. Nowadays, most Mayas cook over coal fire stoves. By the way, the Maya are still alive in the Yucatán: They have their own villages and manage their own businesses! In fact, several companies in tourist towns such as Cancun and Playa Del Carmen have partnerships with Maya villages, helping them thrive. I loved this 🙂

Now, let’s sample some popular Maya dishes shall we?!

Cochinita Pibil or Pollo Pibil

The Maya used to marinate chicken with axiote and other pre-Columbian spices, baking it in underground ovens. In fact, the dish has its name because pibil means “buried” in Maya language 😉

After the Spaniards came, pork and other Eastern spices were introduced. This mix of cultures gave birth to the most popular Maya dish: Cochinita Pibil. Virtually every single Mayan restaurant you ever visit will list this dish under their specialties. I had it while visiting Playa Del Carmen last month and let me tell you, it is delishh!

Maya Recipe: Cochinita Pibil

Maya food Cochinita Pibil

Cochinita Pibil by Gonzalo Valenzuela, Flickr

Sopa de Lima

Lime soup with crushed (or strips) of tortilla on top. Traditionally, it is made with turkey, but can also be made with chicken. Very light, perfect with a margarita or Coronita 😉

Recipe: Mexican lime soup

Maya food lime soup and cochinita pibil

Lime soup (bottom) + cochinita pibil sandwiches! (Rigoberto Reyes, Flickr)


While there are several ways to cook poc-chuc, I love the the Maya barbecue version 😀 Fine slices of pork, marinated in a sour orange juice sauce, with onions and spices.

Maya Recipe: Poc-Chuc

poc chuc Maya food

Mmm Maya poc chuc (kanuck, Flickr)

Pavo en Relleno Negro

Literally means turkey with black stuffing. The jet-black sauce is made of a spice mix called recado. A variation of the reca’o used in the Caribbean, it consists of “achiote seeds, charred chilies, cloves, allspice, peppercorns and cumin” ( Then, mashed hard-boiled eggs and tortillas are added to complete the stuffing. Yum!

Recipe: Pavo en Relleno Negro (with a French twist)

relleno negro, Maya food

Turkey with relleno negro on the left (mswine, Flickr)

Queso Relleno

It is unknown how Edam cheese was introduced to the Yucatán Peninsula. There are several stories, but my favorite is the one told by the chef of the Mayan restaurant I visited: “a ship, containing a large shipment of the Dutch Edam cheese, ran aground at the height of the Caribbean trade in colonial times. Yucatec Mayas discovered  the boxes and started to incorporate Edam cheese in their cuisine. And so Queso Relleno became a Maya food!”

Maya Recipe: Queso Relleno

Maya food platter, Yaxche rest.

Queso relleno (bottom) stuffed with ground pork, which you can see coming out of the top left corner. The black portion is Pavo con Relleno Negro and on the right is the Cochinita Pibil once more


Small fried tortillas, topped with seasoned turkey, mashed fried beans, avocado, pickled onions, lettuce, and sometimes tomatoes.

Maya Recipe: Panuchos

panucho, Maya food

Yucatán panucho (John Chew, Flickr)


It is actually a type of chili in Maya food, but it needed its own category 😉 I found a fascinating recipe mixing these chiles with another authentic Maya dish. You have to try it!

Maya Recipe: Pib X’catik (blonde chilies stuffed with cochinita pibil!)

Pib Xcatik, Mayan cuisine

Pib Xcatik by

Mayan coffee

Last, but definitely not least, is Mayan coffee. Flambéed coffee with shots of Kahlúa, brandy, and Xtabentun (anise, fermented honey) liqueurs, cinnamon, and vanilla ice cream. To make it, a fire show (quite literally) takes place at your table. Think of Irish coffee —  but even better. O.M.G. Why do I do this to myself when I have to be at the office?! *sigh*

Recipe: Maya coffee (without the brandy, though!)

Which was your favorite Maya food? Have you tried it before?

Salsa music history and videos: Travel playlists

There are many misconceptions about salsa music history and its true origin. For this reason, I decided to write about my favorite Latin music genre for this week’s Cultural Tidbits Monday. Additionally, I have included some of my favorite salsa music videos for you to spice up your travel playlists. Enjoy! 😀

Salsa music history: From Cuba or Puerto Rico? Settle already!

As a Latina, I StumbleUpon this debate all the time: Did salsa music originated in Cuba or in Puerto Rico? I’ve seen Cubans and Puerto Ricans alike go head-to-head about who is right, who can take credit for this amazing contribution to Latin music and culture. The truth of the matter is, neither is 100% right.

Salsa music history, Fania All-Stars

“In 1971 the Fania All Stars sold out Yankee Stadium” [Steward, Sue (2000). “Salsa: Cubans, Nuyoricans and the Global Sound” pp. 488–489]. Photo: Tommy Muriel, Wiki

Salsa music history can be traced back to New Yoricans (Nuyoricans), or Puerto Ricans living in New York City, in the early 70s. While it was very common for any type of Latin music to be categorized as “salsa” (even mariachis!) since the 30s, it wasn’t until Johnny Pacheco, creative director and producer for Fania Records, fine-tuned a balanced mix of Latin sounds and created what we know as salsa music today. Back then though, the Fania sound was known as New York salsa.

Yes, Cubans will still scoff at the term and say that salsa was/is nothing more than a mix of old Cuban sounds. However, many fail to acknowledge that the salsa genre we know today was truly a mix of Cuban and other Caribbean sounds — thus the term (salsa = sauce, a concoction of ingredients). Even musicians that only played Cuban music changed the name of their genre to salsa “as a financial necessity” (Wikipedia, salsa music).

Salsa music videos: Travel playlist ideas

Heading to the Caribbean or Latin America soon? I recommend you add these explosive salsa mixes to your travel playlist! They come directly from my personal favorites collection 😉

Héctor Lavoe tribute by Mark Anthony, from the acclaimed film El Cantante. I recommend you download the entire album! But my favorite track is definitely “Aguanile”. No salsa music history article is ever complete without it. You may listen to it at the beginning of the video:

Another classic salsa music history group that has been around for decades is El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico. I had the privilege to have them play at one of my proms in high school while living in the island. Superb! This is what I would call top-shelf salsa music 😉

What did you know about salsa music history before reading this post?

Quirky travel food: Dishes that surprised me on my travels

As I enjoyed some grilled cow hearts last week, I realized that I haven’t written a post about quirky travel food. Not just any kind of strange food, but a list of dishes that actually surprised me on my travels. Those memorable little ones that were odd travel food at first, but tasty in the end! So, without further ado, I introduce you to some quirky travel food I ended up liking.

Quirky travel food in the Caribbean: Eating iguana in Curaçao

During a beach hopping tour in Curaçao, our lunch stop at Jaanchie’s Restaurant included a free dish of iguana. All the girls on our table looked at each other in disbelief. I took a look (and sniff) at the iguana stew…didn’t seem any different than chicken. The cooked reptile reminded me of bony wings, actually. Once I took a bite, I was hooked! As expected, tasted just like chicken wings 😀 Can’t tell you this is what I expected iguanas to taste like when I saw them crawling on the best beaches of Curaçao

quirky travel food, eating iguana in Curacao

Chicken wings, I mean iguana, anyone?

Quirky travel food in Africa: Eating snail soup in Morocco

I’m not going to lie — this sounds more badass than it really was. You see, my friends actually ate the snail, using a toothpick to take it out of the shell and all. I couldn’t stomach this much, so instead, I sipped the snail broth. I call it snail soup. Yes, I drank the water in which the snails are pretty much cooked alive and seasoned in. It was salty and not too bad. I wouldn’t say it was my favorite Moroccan food, but still…I was surprised I was brave enough to try it (against my taste buds’ judgment). This delicacy can be found in several of the many stalls in Jemaa el Fna, Marrakesh. Definitely one of the quirkiest things to do in Morocco!

quirky travel food, snails in Marrakesh

Yup, I drank the broth of THAT (Christine Chun, Flickr)

Quirky travel food in Europe: Eating whale and puffin in Iceland

Please don’t judge me. Yes, I did eat whale (twice, actually) and a cute little penguin-like animal called puffin. My first bite of whale was offered by my Couchsurfing host Asgeir as soon as we arrived to his home late at night. And I’m not going to lie: Smoked whale tasted delicious, tender even. The second time around, I was at a popular restaurant in Reykjavík and ordered an Icelandic food sampler. The waitress suggested the following platter and I said why not:

quirky travel food, whale and puffin

Icelandic food sampler: Whale (top left corner), puffin (center) and smoked lamb (bottom right) with raisin reduction for dipping (bottom left)

Not that I’m going to seek whale or eat it every time I can… But I believe Icelanders have a certain way of getting it, not as unethically as other countries. Yes, I admit it: I ate some whale and I liked it.

Quirky travel food in South America: Eating Peruvian heart kebabs

This quirky travel food has a different story. I actually tried them in Florida! My roommates, one who lived in Peru for over 2 years and another one who visited, decided to cook something “different” last week. I asked them what kind of beef they were grilling, but they said that they wanted me to try it first. And so I tried it, and naturally, was unable to point my finger on it.

Only after I finished an entire heart kebab, did my friend Joshua break the news: “Anticuchos de corazón.” I’m a native Spanish speaker, so my first reaction was “wait, did you say HEARTS in Spanish?!” My roommates Josh and Alan broke out into tears… of laughter. Oh well, I guess I ate cow HEARTS and I liked them, too! Recipe will actually be tomorrow’s feature for our new Hostel Cooking series. I hope you guys give them a try! 😉 They are great surprises.

Peruvian heart kebabs, quirky travel food

Peruvian cow heart kebabs with potatoes

Quirky travel food in the USA: Corndogs and fair fried food

Don’t laugh at me now! I actually do feel like an expat in the USA, even though Puerto Rico is a US territory. And one of the things that surprised me from American food was corndogs. They seemed odd and weird to me at first. But after I tried them, I absolutely loved them! Along with other popular fair foods such as funnel cakes and -gulp- fried Oreos and cookie dough!

deep-fried Oreos, quirky travel food

Deep-fried Oreos! Yum (Rachel Knickmeyer, Flickr)

quirky travel food, deep-fried cookie dough

Deep-fried cookie dough! Can you say LOVE? (David Berkowitz, Flickr)

What quirky travel food have you tried? Share in a comment below!

Spanish superstitions: Part 13 of the World’s Superstitions Series

Welcome to another edition of Cultural Tidbits Monday! After a 5-month hiatus, the World’s Superstitions Series is back. This week, we will learn about the quirky beliefs and traditions stemming from Spanish superstitions. Are the Spaniards guilty as charged? No doubt about it. Their superstitions list is so long, this post is merely an introduction.

Spanish superstitions, flag and fans

Spanish soccer fans (David Wilson, Flickr)

Spanish superstitions list

* Let’s start with a Halloween Spanish superstition: Never leave a chimney uncapped, as witches may climb down it (and into your house)!

* Remember how Latinos believe that both Friday and Tuesday the 13th are unlucky days? In Spain, only Tuesday the 13th is avoided like the plague for events or traveling. There’s even a saying that solidifies this belief: Martes 13: ni te cases, ni te embarques (literally meaning “Tuesday 13: Don’t get married nor embark [a ship],” it actually rhymes in Spanish ;)).

* Boys and girls: Watch your feet when mama is sweeping the floor! According to Spanish superstitions, if broom hits the feet of a single person while sweeping the floor, that person will never get married.

* Never you leave your purse or wallet on the floor — you’ll attract bad luck. Your money will run away (or someone will steal it)!

Spanish superstitions, water toast

NEVER do this. Why? Read on (Viren Kaul)

* Never toast with a glass of water: This is bad luck! In fact, it will get you seven years of bad sex. Bring on the sangria, people.

* In several Spanish households, moms preach to their children the walking barefoot will make them sick (specifically, catch a cold). Thus, it is prohibited to walk without slippers or shoes around the house. This superstition is not exclusive to Spain, by the way. Growing up in Puerto Rico, my mom used to yell at my sister for walking barefoot all the time! As for me, I would always get in trouble due to my constant encounters with the lethal Puerto Rican sereno

* Never take a shower after dinner. According to Spanish superstitions, you’ll have a heart attack!

* Hear or see a cricket? Rejoice: That’s great luck! And if you kill one? Go to church, for you have committed a sin.

Spanish superstitions, cricket

Crickets and Spanish superstitions: Great luck (Mark Robinson)

* On New Year Day, right when the clock hits midnight, one must throw a bucket of water out the window for purification and good luck. I love this one, especially because my family does it every year 🙂 Spanish superstitions and traditions, clearly, are deeply embedded in Puerto Rican culture.

* If a loved one calls you, don’t answer the phone with a “hello” — say bendición or bendiciones (“blessing” or “blessings”) instead. This is another lovely Spanish tradition that was brought to the Caribbean. Back in Puerto RIco though, it is mostly used to greet the elderly or your grandparents (out of respect).

* It is the Spanish belief, as is tradition, to name your child after the name of the Saint to which that day is dedicated. This one is close to my heart, as my grandfather (may he rest in peace) of Canarian descent named all my aunts and mom after the Saints of their birthdays.

San Juan de la Rambla, Tenerife

San Juan de la Rambla, Tenerife, Canary Islands (Photo: BeeLoop SL)

That’s all for Spanish superstitions this week! If you would like a particular country featured, just contact me with a short blurb and list of unique beliefs and superstitions. Conversely, if your country has been previously featured (below), comment on that post to add on to the list!

Previously featured countries – World Superstitions blogs:
Puerto Rico
The Netherlands

Got more Spanish superstitions to share? Comment below!