Hot out of a hole in the ground, today we’re bringing you one of the most awaited and beloved flavors in Yucatecan cuisine: Pib, or as you may know it, Mucbilpollo.
If you’re visiting this season, you may have already heard about this unique Maya word that refers to a giant tamal that becomes the heart of our tables in October (and sometimes November), and to be even more specific, during Janal Pixan.
In short, Mucbilpollo means “buried chicken” and, yes, while it might sound strange, a peculiar cooking tradition in Yucatán consists in filling a hole in the ground with stones and lit firewood, placing the food to be cooked, covering it with banana leaves, and sealing it again with soil. After just the right time, we unbury it and serve it. This gives our dishes a very particular, delicious flavor, and Pib is definitely one of the best examples (though it can definitely be made in the oven just as well).
To make a Pib, you’ll need to get a few things ready. Pib experts recommend shopping early and at a local market, so you can choose, and choose among the freshest ingredients. Your shopping list will include tomatoes, onions, Epazote, Espelón beans, lard, masa, banana leaves, and chicken (or your favorite meat), to name a few.
Cooking time varies depending on each person and family, but what most people can agree on is that you need to start early; some begin preparations in the morning, some the night before.
But what makes Pib such a different meal from other dishes?
As mentioned, Pib is specially made during Janal Pixan; this makes it a food filled with tradition and meaning, as it’s the altar’s main dish. To make it, families get together early, and members get assigned a role; the youngest kids usually clean the banana leaves (which is far from a dangerous task), while others prepare the masa and the heart of the Pib (the tastiest bit): the K’óol.
Every family makes it differently, as the perfect flavor depends on what our dearly departed used to like. On October 31, which is when we expect the return of children that have gone before us, Pibes are usually prepared without Espelón beans or chile, as that’s how children usually like to eat them. On November 1, which is when the deceased adults come to visit, Pibes are prepared with the works.
As you can see, this entire ritual brings families together and wraps them in an atmosphere of melancholy as they remember their loved ones; it is, however, also lit by laughter, beautiful memories and anecdotes, and paves the way to keep alive one of Yucatán’s most important traditions: Janal Pixan.
So if you’re here, and have the opportunity to try a delicious Pib, I can assure you’ll enjoy it even more now that you know its history and all the love and devotion behind its preparation.
And while Janal Pixan is a celebration that happens inside families’ homes, there are lots of restaurants and Cocinas Económicas that will be serving Pibes during these special times, so there’s no excuse not to eat and celebrate, with Yucatecos, like a Yucateco.
By Arianne Osalde.
Yucatecan marketeer with more dreams than what’s healthy to have. Loving every corner of my beloved Yucatán, but waiting each December to enjoy the “heladez” (and presents, really).
Photography by Yucatán Today for use in Yucatán Today.
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