Saturday mornings at Don Manuel Lira’s house are hectic. He and his two assistants rise early to sharpen knives, split wood, clean the holes and cover the anafres with coal. La Guti, his wife, is in the kitchen chopping onion, boiling chickpeas, and soaking dried chilies, cinnamon, avocado leaves, garlic, rice and cloves in a ground tomato sauce. The first rays of sun appear between the cracks in the stable where the lambs gently chew their grains. The pigs in the corral raise their snouts to claim their alfalfa. The roosters crow, frantically wave their wings, and announce the arrival of the day.
Honesty, respect, and humility in the presence of God is the motto Don Manuel preaches. He considers himself a “happy poor” because his wealth lies in the unity of his family, even though his children reside in Chicago. Perched between volcanoes at 2,700 meters above sea level, San Bartolo Morelos is a small town in Mexico that, until now, has remained immune to the violence that lurks in other rural areas of the country. The local specialty is the pit barbecue, a ritual inherited by distant ancestors. Traditionally, a hole of variable dimensions is dug in the land. In this case, it is a brick pit with the ability to hold 8 lambs. Dry oak wood is essential and once it has turned into embers, Doña Guti’s broth is place above it. The broth will collect the juices from the meat while it cooks to create the famous barbecue consommé.
Don Manual chooses young male animals for his barbecue. He collects their blood in a pot and seasons it with peppermint, garlic and onion. He empties the viscera, cleans it thoroughly, and pairs it with the animal’s stomach, soaked in a guajillo chili sauce. Together with the head, boiled and hairless, they are placed on a grid within the pit next to the previously salted meat. The next morning, San Bartolans will come to the stall in the plaza to intensely negotiate for these delicacies. Spikes of maguey are softened in the fire in order to wrap them around the meat. The sweat of the cactus adds a very particular flavor, without which the barbecue would not be complete. Lastly, they cover the hole with dirt to seal it and keep the heat low and even, permeating the meat until dawn.
With the rise and fall of the sale of this meats, Don Manuel continues to remain energetic about the life and tradition emanating from his backyard.
San Bartolo Morelos, Estado de México, México.
Hours: Sunday 7 a.m. – 10 a.m. in the town plaza
Text and Photos: Guénola Bally