Food and Fun : Cuban Style

Article by Patti Morrow & Photos by Kary Kern

A big part of absorbing the Cuban culture is through its food and beverages. Cuban cuisine is a blend of Spanish, Caribbean, African, and Native American recipes. Most of the meals we ate came with called “congri” black beans and rice together, and roasted pork and chicken were the main meats offered.

You can’t go wrong with paella, a tasty entree made with Bomba rice, garlic, onion, peppers, saffron, paprika, white wine, adorned with either meat or seafood. In fact, we liked the seafood paella so much we had it three times during our stay in Cuba.

The restaurants in Cuba do not have a reputation for having the best selection or freshest food, so many people opt to eat at paladares, restaurants in private homes. Sometimes the casa particulars (private B&B’s) offer their guests home-cooked meals for an additional charge. We did take advantage of the huge spread of breakfast foods and fruits not often found in the U.S., and an occasional evening meal if we happened to be back from exploring at dinner time.

Guacamole is readily available as an appetizer or snack. The Cuban guacamole we had was made from the Florida-type avocado rather than the Hass avocado; the Cuban guacamole is looser than traditional Hass guacamole and sometimes served with seafood on top.

Coppelia sells delicious ice cream in Vedado. It’s where the locals go, and it’s really cheap, but be prepared to stand in a long line. Perhaps a better way to obtain some of the creamy goodness is from one of the street vendors, sometimes driving a bicycle stand and usually extraordinarily friendly.

If you like to try street food, Cuba is a safe place to indulge because you can see it being roasted on a spit right in front of you, often the whole animal such as pork.

One funny experience was at Ache, a festive and friendly restaurant in Trinidad. Not seeing any kind of vegetable side dishes on the menu, we asked if they could make us a salad. We did get a salad….but it was cooked!

Our favorite dining experience was one we stumbled on by accident. On the back road drive from Havana to Viñales, we spotted a small but attractive, jungle-looking, palapa restaurant and decided to stop for a mid afternoon bite. No one spoke English and the menu was only available in Spanish, but somehow we managed to order a feast of breaded chicken, fresh baked tortillas, beans and rice, fried plantains, and…. French fries.

Rum plays a major role in Cuban cocktails. Here are some drinks you should not miss, and where to find them:

• Mojito – rum, mint, sugar, lime, and club soda. Go to La Bodeguita del Medio in Old Havana, Hemmingway’s old stomping ground.

• Daiquiri – rum, citrus juice, and sugar or other sweetener. Go to El Floridita where it was allegedly created. Even if not true, if they were good enough for Hemmingway, they’ll be good enough for you!

• Cuba Libre – rum, Coca-Cola, sugar, and lime. Go to

Piña Colada – rum, coconut cream, and pineapple juice, blended. Go to Castropol on The Malecón.

• Cristal – cerveza (beer). Go to La Vitrola at Plaza Vieja in Old Havana. It’s colorful and festive, and peoplewatching opportunities abound.


And naturally there is one ultimate Cuban experience.  Though not technically categorized as either food or drink, it is nonetheless something that goes in your mouth. The pièce de résistance:
The Cuban Cigar. Boom.

Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of Luggage and Lipstick – a travel blog for baby boomer adventurers. She was recently named by TripAdvisor as one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials), and is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone.” Patti has over 100 bylines in 35 publications, including The Huffington Post and The Washington Post. She has traveled throughout most of the USA and more than 50 countries and islands abroad.

 

 

 

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