One of the most anxiously awaited traditions in Yucatán is the moment when it is time to eat the “pibes” (or “mucbilpollos”), a special dish for Janal Pixan (Day of the Dead). This dish is only prepared at this time of year, in almost every home in Yucatán. It’s an essential element for the altars of the dead.
What does pib mean?
Its name comes from the Maya and means “buried chicken;” the traditional cooking method consists of making a hole in the ground and placing stones and wood at the bottom. As soon as they are hot, they cook the “pib,” covered with banana leaves and earth. After two hours it is ready, and it is unearthed and placed on the altar. Once the prayers are finished, and when the deceased have enjoyed its essence and aroma, the living family can eat it. This underground method of cooking is still used in the villages. The taste of the “pib” cooked underground is completely unique.
Where to buy the ingredients?
In Mérida and all towns around the state of Yucatán, the markets get ready by offering the necessary ingredients for the baked “pib” version. The smells of the banana leaves, the bags of “espelón” (seasonal beans), tomatoes, “epazote” (a local herb), along with baking molds, appear during these dates, as well as traditional sweets and all the food that give life, aroma, and taste to the altars.
How is a pib prepared?
The “pib” preparation is an event that everyone in the family participates in, whether in the kitchen, with the shopping, or the placement of the altar. A day in advance, the “tortillerías” sell the corn dough, which is then seasoned with salt, lard and achiote paste. Others clean the banana leaves, while others shred the previously cooked chicken and pork.
The experts prepare what, for me, gives the “pib” its flavor: the “kol” a white sauce that is made from chicken and pork broth, achiote paste, and corn dough. Then the mold is greased, some banana leaves are placed inside, and then the prepared dough, meat, “kol” and the famous “pib” cover. I prefer the dough made with “espelón,” because when it is baked it gets crunchy and it’s simply delicious.
Pib for all
It’s a custom to make more than one “pib,” depending on the number of family members because they will have it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for two or three days! There are some modern versions that include different fillings, such as ham and cheese, pork cracklings, or fried octopus. What is maintained in every version is the delicious aroma, causing the same words to be spoken all over Yucatán: “now it smells like pib.”
Editorial by Violeta H. Cantarell
Born in Mérida, Violeta is a communicologist dedicated to writing and creating content on tourism, fashion, and entrepreneurship. She has recently started working as an English-Spanish translator.
Read more about Día de Muertos and Janal Pixan:
- Festival de las Ánimas in Yucatán
- An Awaited Celebration: Janal Pixan
- Day of the Dead in Yucatán
- Janal Pixan Altars
- Pib Season
See here a little bit of what Día de Muertos is all about:
Get to know one of the most and beautiful traditions in Campeche:
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