Among the Day of the Dead offerings, favorite foods — along with candles, flowers, and photographs — are the central elements. Pan de Muerto, sugar skulls, and dishes such as mole are commonly left on altars for loved ones all throughout the country.
But in Yucatán, these elements take a back seat to Hanal Pixán meals, a Mayan tradition that translates to “food of the souls.”
During the Hanal Pixán celebrations, altars are adorned with oranges, tangerines, sweet potatoes, jicamas, chile, atole nuevo, and tan-chucuá (corn and cocoa-based atole) as well as tamales, especially mucbipollo or pib, the star of the party. To understand the line-up, here’s a list of some of the traditional dishes you may encounter on our altars.
Mucbipollo or pib: The traditional Yucatecan tamale
This dish is the most important in the Hanal Pixán celebrations. It is a tamale or corn stew wrapped in banana leaves. It is traditionally cooked underground over a slow fire, as the ancient Maya did.
It is filled with pork, turkey, or chicken; sometimes even all three, and comes out to have a thick, crispy exterior, with a soft, creamy interior.
Also known as Mukbil Pollo or Pibipollo, it can take up to 10 hours to prepare. However, the smoky flavor offered by the earth and the slow cooking process has made it a staple all over the Peninsula.
Tanchucuá: a thick cocoa beverage
When looking for a traditional beverage to accompany the pibs, locals will sometimes refer to Tanchucuá. It is a gruel made out of ground cocoa and corn dough.
In some cases, anise is added to the drink, which comes out to be a thick liquid often enjoyed hot. It is mainly consumed in the Yucatan Peninsula and in the state of Tabasco
In Yucatán Magazine: Cemeteries and festivities will be open this year for Hanal Pixan celebrations
Xek: Citrus salad or dessert
This simple dish can be served both as a dessert or as a salad. It is a combination of orange, mandarin, jicama, and sometimes cilantro. The citruses are mixed with lime juice, salt, and chili powder. Some people even add cucumber to the mix.
It is a wonderful way to highlight the citrus of the state, especially considering that Oxkutzcab, a community inside Yucatán, is the citrus capital of the world.
Balché: A drink conceived by a native tree
This drink is of pre-Hispanic origin. It was forbidden during colonial times as it was considered “pagan.” It is obtained from the bark of the native Balché tree and is usually mixed with cinnamon, honey, and anise.
The mixture is boiled and then left to ferment for one to two days, depending on the desired sweetness.
Typical sweets are part of the traditional Hanal Pixán meal
Although the mentioned drinks are sweet, traditional Yucatecan desserts and sweets are a must in the offering.
Some of the ones often found in altars can be papaya in syrup, coconut, and pepita candies, mazapanes, or more elaborate dishes like Caballero Pobre — a typical Yucatán dessert made with French bread dipped in milk, sweetened and fried.
In ancient times, the Maya buried their dead with symbolic offerings to join them in their journey. Nowadays, it is more common to place them on the table, directly on the altar, or even enjoy them in the cemeteries, close to the loved one’s grave.
As the festivities come to an end, make sure to take advantage of the final days of pibs and pan de muertos around the shops, as these beloved dishes only show up once a year.
In Yucatán Magazine: Día de Los Muertos or Hanal Pixán: What’s the difference?