Updated: Jul 30, 2018
Origin - Yucatán, Mexico
Cochinita pibil (or peurco pibil) is a dish originally from the Yucatán region in Mexico. Nowadays it is very popular throughout the Mexican territory. You can find it in restaurants and street food stalls almost everywhere.
Cochinita in Spanish means baby pig that's 2-6 weeks old that is still sucking milk from its mother. Traditionally, the cochinita pibil is prepared with baby pigs for special occasions, but nowadays, pork shoulders, butt and loin are common alternatives for the baby pigs.
You might wonder -- those meats are not gonna be as tender as baby pig meat, how can the taste of this dish be maintained? Well, there are two tricks: first of all, the meats are marinated in strong citrus juice, like bitter orange, which provides the acids that help make the meats tender. Secondly, the meats are wrapped in banana leaves and slow-cooked for a long time until the meats can be shredded effortlessly by forks.
This dish's origin can be traced back to the Hispano-Mayan period, during which the cooking technique "pibil" was already documented. Pibil in Mayan language means roasting in a pit with a fire at the bottom. Such method was already used to cook a variety of foods by Mayans, including venisons and pheasants. These meals took great prominence during the Day of the Dead or "Hanal Pixan", which was constituted as the most important celebration of the pre-Hispanic world.
With the arrival of the Spaniards, the Mayans began to implement pork into their traditional dishes, giving rise to the cochinita pibil. One ingredient we can not miss here is annatto, an orange-red condiment and food coloring derived from the seeds of the native Central America and Mexico tree, achiote tree. It is an ingredient that was widely used by Mayans, and is also what makes the dish's color looks so vibrant.
There are so many reasons why cochinita pibil is the most traditional dish in Yucatán, but why it becomes a food legacy deeply roots in the union of the Mayan and Spanish cultures.