Or however you spell it! We’ve seen it spelled about ten different ways on different hand-printed signs around town. Many of the cocina economicas, including the House of Screws around the corner, had signs advertising that they were baking them and would sell them para llevar, or for take out. So what is this mysterious thing, you ask?
Well, here’s a photo. Does that help? No? Well, let us try to explain. Around these parts, the Mayans celebrate the Day of the Dead at the end of October. This holiday is called Halloween in Gringolandia, but the Mayans call it Hanal Pixan, which means “soul food.” As the holiday approaches, the buzz increases about eating pibs during the celebrations. And when Hanel Pixan was over, Yucatecans were greeting us in person or on the phone asking, “Did you eat your pibs?”
But then yesterday, our aforementioned Mayan housekeeper and her nubile daughter came to clean, and brought us two fresh-baked pibs. From what we understand, these are large tamales with a chicken, anchiote and chaya filling. The tamale dough is made of corn (what else?) and has black beans mixed into it. The whole thing is wrapped in banana leaves and baked underground in a pit, call a pib in Mayan, hence the nickname. I’m sure in the modern households in Merida they bake their pibs in ovens these days, but I guarantee you the ones we got were baked the old-fashioned way.
We had our pibs for lunch. Or rather, we had one. We really couldn’t even finish that one. Each one weighed about five pounds. We’re not kidding. And the crust was tough and leathery. The chicken inside was tasty and tender, but there didn’t seem to be enough of it. Another curious thing: one of our pibs was square and the other was round.
We consider ourselves very fortunate to have the opportunity to eat authentic pibs baked in the Mayan earth. But someday we’d like to try a haute cuisine version that might be a little easier to chew.