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!”

 

Yucatan Folklore Part 3

Another alux story from the town of Yobain!

To read my previous stories on Yucatan’s mystical pranksters, the aluxes, check out the following:

Yucatan Folklore Part 1

Yucatan Folklore Part 2

Uncle Mike told us another story about an alux encounter from when he was a kid. Mike was walking through Yobain at night with his older brother, Eduardo. Mike looked behind him, and suddenly saw two bright red eyes following them down the road. He told Eduardo, who replied “Don’t look at it, just keep walking.” They got home quickly, and once they were inside the house, Eduardo said “I can’t believe that thing was following me again.”

To answer some questions from previous posts, aluxes aren’t considered violent or evil. They love playing tricks on people, and if you deny their existence or mock them they will get even with you! (I actually have a pretty good story about aluxes getting even… ya’ll will read it next week!)

Yucatan Folklore Part 2

For those of you just joining in, this week I’m writing about aluxes, a mystical creature that haunts the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula. Many of Jorge’s family members live in a small town in the Yucatan called Yobain, and on New Years Eve they told me about some of their run-ins with the supernatural.

Last summer, my brothers-in-law (Darwin and Jair) were staying the night at Uncle Mike’s house in Yobain. They were hanging out one evening with cousin Isis  by the window.

Isis saw something moving on the neighbor’s roof. She pointed it out to Darwin and Jair. They climbed out onto the 2nd floor patio to get a better look. By then, it had crossed the street to a thatched roof home across from the house. Isis described this “alux” as being about 3 feet tall, sometimes moving on all fours and sometimes moving on two legs. It had “eyes that burned red like coals” and the only way she could describe it’s body was as a white, glowing shadow.

The three of them got so scared, that they went back inside and closed all the curtains.

Street in front of Uncle Mike's house (the yellow wall on the right is their house, and you can see the thatched roof home on the left) Sorry about the blurriness.

Yucatan Folklore Part 1

On New Years Eve, we went to Jorge’s Uncle Mike’s house for a gift exchange with his dad’s side of the family.

As I’ve mentioned before, most of Jorge’s dad’s family lives in a small town in the state of Yucatan called Yobain. This little town is filled with lush jungle vegetation, locals riding their bikes, people chatting with neighbors on doorsteps, and beautiful white-washed stone walls around many of the houses.

The Yucatan Peninsula is filled with incredible stories and superstitions handed down by the Mayan culture, and the town of Yobain is no exception.

After all the gifts were handed out, I sat around with Jorge, his father (also named Jorge), his Uncle Mike, Uncle Tony, Aunt Elsy and cousins Isis, Yaresbi and Damaris. Uncle Mike, one of the youngest in the family, spent the next hour telling us about some of the run-ins their family has had with Yucatan’s spirits, and I found myself with chills running down my spine.

This week, I’ll be telling you several of the stories Uncle Mike told us that night.

First of all, you should probably know a little more about the culture. The jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula are believed to be inhabited by “aluxes” (The “x” is pronounced like an “sh”… “a-loo-shes”). You’ll hear different stories about their appearance or where they came from, but everyone agrees that they have a child-like mentality. They love pranks, and will quickly get even with you if you insult them.

The first story took place years ago when brothers Mike, Jorge and Tony were walking through the streets of Yobain at night. Back when they were kids, this small town had no electricity and the streets were dark. They were walking along when they heard movement among some nearby trees. Startled, Tony calmed his brothers by saying it was probably just some other kids.

The three brothers continued walking until they reached the town’s central plaza. Here, they heard noises behind them but didn’t see anything, and began to feel frightened. Suddenly, Jorge was lifted up into the air by both arms by some invisible force, and the brothers could hear laughter. When Jorge reached a nearby corner, an older gentleman stepped out of his home. The invisible forces dropped Jorge back to the ground and left.

After hearing this story, I asked my father-in-law if he remembered this happening to him. He said that yes, he did.

More alux stories to come this week!

Pinatas on New Years

During our trip to Yucatan last weekend to visit Jorge’s family, I learned that pinatas aren’t just for birthday parties! Turns out they’re also popular at New Years.

On New Years Eve, around 2 am, there was a pinata at Jorge’s Uncle Mike’s house. Sorry about all the blurriness… I was still getting used to my new camera and action shots aren’t my forte.

On New Years Day, the cousins all got to participate in yet another pinata in the beach town of Chabihau.

Jorge might have grabbed some candy off the ground and hidden it in my purse. Cheater.