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!”

 

Xcaret’s Festival of Life and Death

While all my American friends were celebrating Halloween last week, here in Cancun we were enjoying some Day of the Dead festivities. I’ve blogged in the past about Day of the Dead in Cancun, like events at Parque Las Palapas and altar items sold at Market 23, but this year was quite different. Jorge and I went to Xcaret park in the Riviera Maya for their Festival of Life and Death. I’ve been dying to go for a few years, and this time we finally made it.

The night we went (Friday, November 2) was ridiculously busy. I was told they had nearly 15,000 people at the park that night for the Festival of Life and Death, probably because it was the final day, a Friday, and the day that most locals had off of work. It was an amazing event, but we made a mental note never to come back on the last day of the festival again. Parking was… interesting.

Part of the crowd gathered for a show

Crazy crowds and parking on the highway aside, we had a great time and the festival was STUNNING. We saw catrina face painting, tons of shows, a beautiful cemetery and incredible scenery.

Festival Decor

Anyone who has been to Xcaret knows that it’s a feast for the eyes, with lush jungle, great beaches and amazing animals. The Festival of Life and Death was no exception. The park was adorned with torches, candles, costumes and marigolds (“flor de muerto”, a Day of the Dead tradition) and it was beautiful to see.

Altars
During Day of the Dead, many Mexicans set up an altar in their home to honor deceased loved ones. These altars are adorned with marigolds, crosses, candles and the food and drinks the deceased enjoyed during their lifetime. Xcaret had a large area dedicated to altars made by local communities from across the Yucatan Peninsula. It was fun to see how different each altar was while still incorporating many of the traditional elements.

The Mayan Ball Game Show

After touring the park, we managed to see one of the many shows for the Festival of Life and Death. Held at the park’s Mayan ball game court, it was about the ancient Mayans fighting the people of the underworld in the famous game.  It was CROWDED (we almost saw a fist fight between two ladies over not being able to see), but I still managed to get a few pictures from far away.

The people of the underworld had the best skeleton costumes. This is the best picture I got!

Playing the Mayan ball game

My favorite part 🙂

 The Cemetery

Xcaret has a reenacted Mayan village as well as a colorful cemetary set in levels all around a hill. It’s cool to look at during the day, but even better at night! The lower levels of the cemetery have smaller gravestones, and they get more elaborate the further you go up. Most have some kind of small room or ornate miniature house. Each was adorned with candles and marigolds in celebration of Day of the Dead. Really interesting to see…

Underneath the cemetery

If you’re ever in Cancun or the Riviera Maya for Day of the Dead, I highly recommend Xcaret’s Festival of Life and Death. Magical 🙂

Have you ever been in Mexico for Day of the Dead?

 

Catrinas and Calaveras in Cancun

Mexico is known across the globe for its vibrant and colorful holidays. Here, even death itself takes on a joyful vibe every year on El Dia de los Muertos (“The Day of the Dead”). Held on November 1 and 2, this holiday celebrates loved ones who have passed on with altars to the deceased called ofrendas and an annual visit to grave sites.

Since Day of the Dead falls so close to Halloween, the two holidays are often combined here in Cancun. Children roam neighborhoods trick-or-treating with parents and friends, while the streets fill up with images of La Catrina, an elegant lady skeleton symbolizing Day of the Dead.

One of the many Catrinas I found in Cancun’s Parque Las Palapas tonight

 Tonight was an interesting one for Jorge and me. We had several groups of trick-or-treaters stop by, and we gave them some classic Mexican candies. (Jorge’s enjoying the leftovers as I write this.) Then we took a stroll around Parque Las Palapas, which had lots of family activities, people in costume, and a show with colorful Mexican dances.

My best friend Viri had an ofrenda for her brother and grandfather set up at her home, and her parents were kind enough to let me take some pictures. It has many of the classic ofrenda elements, with incense, marigolds (Flor de Muerto), pan de muerto, candles to guide the way of the deceased, sugar skulls (calaveras) and some of their favorite food and drinks from when they were living.

I always feel like Day of the Dead is a fascinating mix of intimate family memories and vivid social traditions, bringing together families and communities alike. This year in Cancun was no different.

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.

Day of the Dead Traditions Begin in Cancun

“Dia de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead) is one of the biggest holidays in Mexico, falling on November 2. Mixing in with Halloween traditions from its northern neighbor, Mexico’s Day of the Dead traditions offer a surreal combination of vibrant color, sadness, respect, comedy and culture, all in honor of loved ones who have passed away.

Even though many locals accuse the young city of Cancun as devoid of culture, I beg to differ. Even though most of our population comes from all over Mexico and the world, you’ll still find each Mexican family’s own version of a Day of the Dead altar. A few days prior to November 2, Mexican families begin to set up altars in their homes to honor the deceased.

Traditional Day of the Dead altar decor usually includes the following:

  • Marigolds
  • Calaveritas (small decorative skulls made of sugar)
  • Papel picado, colorful sheets of paper with shapes cut out
  • Photos of the deceased
  • Candles
  • Pan de muerto, a traditional loaf of sweet bread used only at this time of year
  • Food and drinks that the deceased enjoyed when they were alive

As the cold weather begins to set in (NOOO!), Cancun will start to make their altar purchases over the next week or so. Hopefully I’ll be able to document some of my friend’s family altars. For now, I’ll leave you with some photos from last year’s Day of the Dead in Cancun:

Altars and Catrinas at Parque las Palapas

After buying items for a Day of the Dead altar on Sunday, we all made our way to Cancun’s “Parque las Palapas” to walk around.

Near the park’s main theater area is a smaller park known as the “Hippie Park”. This is one of my favorite spots in Cancun!

Here, lots of little stands are set up among the trees. You can buy lots of handmade jewelry, keychains, incense, clothes, pipes and more.

We saw a special altar set up in the middle of the Hippie Park, along with a guy burning incense.

On our way back to the car, Viri and I were captured by a skeleton (left) and “La Catrina” (right), traditional symbols of Day of the Dead in Mexico. La Catrina is represented as a skeleton woman in a large black hat with colorful flowers in it.

Here are some other images of La Catrina, because I think she’s pretty interesting:

Setting up a Day of the Dead Altar

Here in Mexico, November 2 is Day of the Dead, when everyone celebrates and remembers their family members who have passed on.

Altars are set up in homes with pictures of the deceased, alongside the deceased’s favorite foods, drinks and more. Here in Cancun, people started setting up altars as soon as Saturday.

Sunday night, Jorge and I went to Cancun’s Market 23 with our friends Juan and Viri to buy some altar items for Viri’s house.

Market 23

Candy mmm!!

Tiny "Calaveritas" made of sugar... traditionally, you place one to represent each deceased family member on the altar, plus one for extended relatives, plus one for all those who don't have anyone to make their altar

"Pan de Muerto" (Bread of the Dead) is sold only around this time of year. You can eat it (Starbucks is selling it right now) or place it on your altar... or both!

"Flor de Muerto" (Flower of the Dead) - Marigolds are always placed on altars. Most altars have whole flowers along with petals scattered on them.

These cut-out paper banners are usually used to cover the altar.

Candles and incense are also used on many altars.

My friend Viri buying candies and holding flowers for her brother's altar

I didn’t get a photo of Viri’s altar (stupid camera battery), but here’s something similar so you get an idea:

This post is getting a bit long, so I’ll wait until tomorrow t0 tell you about my encounter with “La Catrina”!

Just Thursday

It’s Just Thursday again with Murdock’s Mama! If you wanna join in, link up by clicking on the icon…

Outside my window.. lots of sunshine!!


The time is.. 9:24 am
Today I feel.. still sleepy, even though I slept for 10 hours last night.
I am thinking.. about how weird and vivid some of my dreams were last night. Scared to go back to sleep hahaha
At the moment, I am thankful.. for kind strangers. Thanks to the lady who offered to give me a ride to work yesterday 🙂 You made my week.
I am going.. to get lots of work done today (hopefully)
I am wearing.. my work uniform.
I wish.. we had Target in Cancun. Maybe someday!

I am reading.. They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie
I am working on.. losing some weight! Yesterday was a great day, and today will hopefully be even better. I have a tupperware full of fruit calling my name right now! Canteloupe and pitaya… mmm…

I am hoping.. to get Monday AND Tuesday off (for Day of the Dead), but I’m not going to get my hopes up, either.


I am hearing.. the clicking of keyboards.
I bet you didn’t know.. that Jorge almost lost his eyebrows this week. Time to get a new water heater.
One of my favorite.. fruits is canteloupe!! I’ve been buying it every week lately.
Weekend Plans.. I have no idea. It all depends on how everything plays out with days off and whatnot. Here are a few possibilities of what might happen:

Throwing a Halloween party with some friends

Going out to  a nightclub or bar for Halloween

Going to Yucatan for the whole weekend to visit Jorge’s family for Day of the Dead