From the depths of Mother Earth to the soul: food cooked underground.

The earth element is the one that most connects us to our origins. It is commonly associated with the feminine, as in Mother Earth, providing nourishment, fertility, and longevity. There are various expressions related to this ancestral tie: “to put down roots”, “to have our feet on the ground”, while to be “grounded” implies having a sense of importance for the ordinary things in life.  

barbacoa de hoyo
Photo: Barbacoa Los Villa

And what is more ordinary and nourishing than food? When it’s prepared in a ground oven, that direct connection from the earth to the belly (and, thus, the soul)  is maintained.  This ancient approach to cooking has been used throughout the world to sustain millions of people. Here are a few examples from Mexican cuisine that utilize these ancestral techniques of cooking in the ground.


The oven in which cochinita pibil, the slow roasted pork from the Yucatán, is traditionally cooked. It’s a hole in the ground with firewood and stones lining the bottom to keep the heat in. The meat is placed on a rack, and the whole thing is covered in banana leaves and sealed with mud.

Hoyo de barbacoa (Barbecue pit)

This pit is deeper than the pib, and cooks meat like a casserole whereby rice, chickpeas, epazote chili, salt and water are added to perform two functions. First to contain the meat’s juices and, second to steam the meat so it comes out soft and tender. The whole concoction is covered with pulque stalks and earth, in order to add flavor, and left to simmer for 8 hours.


Typical of the Huasteca region, the texcal is used to prepare the zacahuil, a tamale that can measure up to five meters long! The oven is characterized by its length, being longer than it is deep and it is covered with hot stones. The communities of this region also use it to cook animals and vegetables, with which they make sauces and other traditional dishes.

Zacahuil Texcal

And let’s not forget that the pits are also used to make spirits!

Mezcal, the famous elixir that is the cure for so many ailments. Once the agave hearts have been harvested, they are cooked for hours in wood-fired stone pits, which gives the drink its characteristic smoky flavor.

mezcal cocción agave
Photo: El Economista

All these dishes and drinks touch our hearts and souls, because for Mexicans they are not only important as daily sustenance, but because they also keep us connected to the land from which we come.

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