“You have to learn how to make this!” Mark exclaimed. “We have been doing it all wrong.”
The pork roasts we made at home lacked the complexity and flavor of the puerco pibil we were eating. The meat, pulled and meltingly chewy, was rich with sweet, sour, and spicy flavors. Everything about the dish hit every culinary requirement.
“I have never eaten anything like this!” we both remarked simultaneously.
I said, “When I keep wanting more, even though I am full, it has to be special. Its like I want this dish to pervade my senses.”
We sat across from one another at a low lying picnic bench, filling hand pressed corn tortillas with the pork meat and slices of fresh avocado. Here in the heart of the Maya Mountains of Belize, a silent connection came over us as we ate.
We were hooked on Pibil. It is food-so-good.
Pibil is to the cuisine of Belize that the jaguar is to its animals; it is the crown jewel. It’s origins are Mayan – its name is officially Cochinita Pibil, or suckling pig, cooked underground in banana leaves. Modern cooks use shoulder and butt cuts to replicate the self-basting effect of the whole animal. Cochinita or Puerco as it is called, is a dish of celebration and honor.
It was a no-debate choice to serve to Prince Harry during his tour of Belize, celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee.
During the Prince’s tour, he was invited to visit the Mayan temples at Xunantunich (Shoo-NAAN-too-nich). A climbing tour, capped off with a luncheon on the backside of the site, featured a full Cochinita Pibil, displayed simply with corn tortillas and vegetables.
For the dish, a small pig is slaughtered, cleaned and seasoned with salt, pepper and red recado seasoning, made from spices and annatto seeds. This lends a red color to the meat and a deep complex flavor. Sour lime juice and chile is added, and the pig was set to marinate overnight. The acids from the lime tenderize the meat, and the slow underground roast creates a smokey, barbeque finish that adds a chew-and-swallow effect that turns even the most timid eaters into full-blown carnivores.
It is laborious, and with the time and passion the dish evokes, a stage was set for Prince Harry to experience an integral part of Belizean culture:the love of food. The theater of Belize was putting its best foot forward, and cuisine was at its heart.
I eagerly awaited his climb and walk across the temple plaza, wondering what he would think when he saw the pig. I watched as the prince made his way to the buffet, my heart filled with girlish, gastronomic-fueled hope. Even though I had not made the dish he would eat, I knew its taste and power by heart.
“Did he like it?” I wondered.
I had to ask.
“Of course the food was one of Prince Harry’s favorites. He asked for seconds of the pork. ” stated the Royal Press Secretary, Miguel Head.
My heart skipped a beat.