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!”