Pre-Hispanic Crockery and Its Preservatives in Tabasco, Mexico

The instruments that persist today in the preparation of food in the state of Tabasco, are divided for description according to the material from which they come: wood, stone, bejuco, among others.

Pre-Hispanic Crockery and Its Preservatives in Tabasco, Mexico
The molcajete is a stone mortar with three short, rounded, hollow supports. It is used to grind spices and sauces. Photo by allan ronson / Unsplash

Food is a matter of culture, diffusion, and education, which is why human beings begin their food education practically from birth. Formal education in the early years has little influence on what we eat, but it can greatly modify what we produce, how we produce and transform it, how we distribute it, and make it accessible.

What "food" means to an individual in a specific situation depends on how he or she perceives that situation, the physiological state he or she is in and the role played, for example, by the physical environment (food availability, climate, and temperature), the requirements of the organism (hunger, senses, and thirst), the physical state (age, sex, and health). the emotional state (joy, sadness, and anguish), the socio-cultural environment (rites, values, customs, and norms), and, finally, the role played in this environment: mother, father, grandfather, child, or infant.

Food has an essential role in the development and rooting of peoples, not only for the simple fact of satisfying the need to eat but also because it involves a series of religious, cultural, and social aspects, which have determined that there is a ceremonial halo at the moment of eating food. It is surprising that each country, including each region, has a variety of dishes that, in many cases, are unknown even to the closest neighbors.

Traditions endure or prevail, but this is related to the availability of food and the time to prepare it, depending also on the lifestyle, education, and place of residence of each person. Thus, we have the empirical and deep knowledge of nature in rural areas where the transmission of teaching, customs, myths, and attitudes is almost direct and where the understanding of biological cycles is used intuitively and rationally, being the type of food-related to the ease of obtaining a resource. Therefore, it can be said that the diet is natural and what is eaten is in harmony with the environment in which one lives and about the cycles of nature.

When we hear a typical recipe that is transformed into a dish, the representation of a region or a state of the Mexican Republic comes to mind. This gastronomy, in turn, represents the biological-ecological diversity, that is, the range of potential food products, the knowledge of past and present culture, the production strategy, and the nutrition and dietary patterns of that particular region.

Every ecosystem or environmental unit contains a food potential, manifesting the variety and availability of the basic nutritional elements required by human beings in a given time and space, together with the culinary practices that are provided with a meaning and a social function We know today that these practices play a central role in the cultural identity and that they function as social standards.

For this reason, we agree that cooking and food are a significant expression of cultural traditions and that the presence of popular cookbooks, restaurants, and cooking classes have played their part in the resurgence and promotion of culturally labeled culinary practices. The culinary or gastronomic customs of a people do not change from one day to the next. However, some of them eventually disappear over time, as has happened with the consumption of certain foods. Many of them needed very specific inputs, as well as utensils, utensils, and materials specially designed for a particular way of cooking.

There are written testimonies that point to the existence of culinary recipes that have been preserved by oral tradition. Knowledge about the inputs and methods of food preparation has often been recovered, but there is very little written information about the materials since they are considered secondary. The motivations for acquiring food, such as the involvement of family habits, culinary knowledge and skills, the type of utensils available, the type of fuel used, the facilities for preserving and storing food, and the value placed on each food by the family, have changed over time.

The forms of food preparation are very varied and diverse according to the region. Many social groups do not use, in essence, techniques so different from those that existed 500 years ago and there are no major changes in terms of the richness of ingredients, the forms of preparation, the utensils used, or the material used to wrap the food (banana leaves, corncob, maguey, among others).

Cooking is considered an art and at the same time a cultural expression, which is why it has manifested itself in countless writings of culinary tradition, from very simple to complex. There are few writings about utensils and despite this, we continue to taste flavors. One of the answers includes the remains that have been found of culinary instruments, such as pre-Hispanic crockery; but we will not refer to them, but rather to the instruments that persist today in the preparation of food in the state of Tabasco, which has been divided for description according to the material from which they come: wood, stone, bejuco, among others, as follows:


Batea or Lebrillo

Flat rectangular vessel with a 30x50 cm rim to support the nixtamal
during the grinding of the nixtamal.

Batidor (whisk)

Cylindrical vessel about 20 cm deep by 6-8 cm in diameter at the mouth; it has an ear or handle and sometimes has a lid with a central perforation that gives way to the whisk. It is mainly used to beat chocolate.


A type of trellis made of tree sticks, tied with yagua, which is placed above the stove to smoke salted meats, oranges, and coconuts.


Rustic troje, made of toh leaves and sticks in the shape of a box, is used to store rice, coffee, and beans.

Molinillo de monte

Stick from a tree that has 5 outlets or hooks at the knuckles. It is part of the whisk and can be used to whisk in any other container 40 cm long and 2-3 cm in diameter.

Mortar or porrimo

A corpulent tree trunk, hollowed out conically in the center, with the help of a cylindrical mallet with a lever-shaped end, used to husk rice and coffee.


A device, in the form of a paddle or short oar, is used to stir the contents of the pot, pan, or pot.


Small dish with the center raised and hollowed out, used to seat the beans.


Thin, somewhat concave disc, 70 cm in diameter, used to separate rice and coffee husks.



A large, thick, strong vessel used to store drinking water.


Thin, somewhat concave disc, without edges, used mainly for cooking tortillas and toasting cocoa beans.


A semi-spherical vessel is used for eating.


Wide-mouthed pot, without rim, used for cooking on the stove.


30 cm high cylindrical tube; each of the three stones of a stove and on which is placed the pot or pan, supports for cooking.



Quadrilong stone, held between feet of the same piece, forming a plane inclined forward. It is used to grind corn, cocoa, and other grains.


Stone mortar with three short supports, rounded and hollow. It is used to grind spices and sauces.

Piedra de río

Generally black, the size of the hand of the person who chooses it, is used to crush meat and condiments.



Water-carrying container of a large, ovoid-shaped, transversely girdled variety of guajede water.


Basket of braided liana, wide mouth, used to hold cooked corn -used in the preparation of pozol-, or cocoa and coffee.

Jicaro coconut

Cup or well made with the epicarp (shell) of the jicaro, sometimes carved and/or smoked in the cacaste and used to drink coffee.

Coconut shell

Endocarp or woody and bony shell split in half, which is polished with fat and smoke in the cacaste, used to dilute achiote or to drink food.


A vessel made from the fruit of the jícaro tree, wide-mouthed and/or smoked, mainly used to drink pozol.


Container made of a variety of large, spherical guaje used to keep tortillas warm or to store grains.

Dry pataxte

Fruit of the pataxte tree, dried and smoked, is used to crush cocoa and roasted corn to make pinol.



Bodega or wooden floor that is made in gable-roofed houses to store the harvest of grains and fruits.


Coarse wooden grating is used as a storage area or shelf.


A circle constructed of bejuco and woven, with yagua fiber, in the shape of a spider's web and suspended by three threads of the same fiber, used to preserve tortillas and totopostes. The bejuco bun can be a small, circular shape, approximately 5 cm in diameter. It is also used to sit jicara.

By Dora Centurión Hidalgo and Judith Espinosa Moreno