A Taste of Cuba

Cuba gets a bad rap when it comes to food.

I’ll admit that the culinary options in Cuba are limited, being an island and all. And with the embargo, certain foods are REALLY difficult to acquire (like milk or cheese). Locals stand in line for hours at empty markets in hopes of getting the supplies they need. But if you know where to look you’ll find some tasty cuisine and high-quality restaurants.

Street Fruit-Cuba Food

 

Fun Facts about Food in Cuba 

How Do I Find Good Cuban Food in a Country Low on Supplies?

Shopping-Cuba food
A typical Cuban grocery “store” in Havana.

The best advice I can give for finding good food is to look for restaurants in the private sector called paladares. State-run restaurants have no incentive to put out good food and most are bland and overpriced. (There are a few exceptions but it’s a good starting point.) Or even better, eat at your Casa Particulares for a truly authentic and completely delicious meal.

Don’t be surprised if a restaurant doesn’t have everything that’s on the menu. Menus are HUGE but sometimes only half of what’s on the menu is actually available.

Breakfast is not the most important meal of the day.

Cubans aren’t big on breakfast. If you’re looking for a restaurant any earlier than 11 AM you are likely to be disappointed. But if you stay at Casa Particulares the host provides breakfast for 5-10$ per person. Papaya, guava, pineapple, mango, coffee, eggs, fresh-pressed juice, bread, cheese, lunch meats, jam, and if you’re lucky pastries. My favorites were guava filled rolls or the flat pancake-like disks covered in syrup and cinnamon. For us, this huge spread was just enough food to get us to our next meal but we’ve always been big breakfast eaters.

No Three Course Meals Here.

It’s traditional to serve all food at once in Cuba. They throw it all on the table at once so you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into.

Homestay Dinner-Cuba Food
A full dinner spread with the world’s most sunburnt man.

It’s Never Safe to Drink the Water. Or Eat the Ice.

Now I’m not gonna lie to you, I ate lots of the ice. It’s 90 degrees out and all I wanted was a fresh mojito or iced sangria and I paid the price. Between Evan and I, we got 3 bouts of food poisoning and a parasite out of the deal…so really REALLY think twice if that cold drink is worth it. (No, apparently we are not fast learners.)

Cities with the most Stand Out Food? 

Fruit Tray-Cuba Food
We were lucky and arrived during Mango season, one of Cuba’s few crops. So everything was Mango-Juice, fruit, sauce, and cocktails. (Avocado and Guava season are two other options)

Havana and Trinidad. Hands down. 

They come from opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to Cuban cuisine. Havana is traditional-meat, plantains, rice, beans, typical Spanish influenced flavors. Trinidad has a more Caribbean spin on the Cuban favorites. The further East you travel on the island the more tropical the influences become.

 

 

Cuban Favorites

Ropa Vieja 

Ropa Vieja-Cuba Food

This is the number one food you have to try when in Cuba. Sorry vegetarians, there is no substitute for this tomato soaked meat dish. Beef or lamb soaked in tomato, onions, bell peppers, and various other spices and served as a delicious stew alongside the staple side dishes of rice, beans, and plantains.

Paella

Lobster Tail-Cuba Food

Particularly delicious in the Trinidad region and anywhere close to the coast this is THE BEST seafood in Cuba.  My favorite versions will have shrimp, lobster, shellfish, red wine, rice, and a mound of delicious aromatic garlicy spices.

Flan

Dessert (or breakfast) doesn’t get better than this. It’s light and creamy with a delicious carmel layer on top. Some places even serve it with ice cream.

 

Street Pastry-Cuba Food
Another delicious treat I bought from a street vendor! Some kind of coffee flavored cake.

Maduros

Plantains are made a million different ways, but not all are equal. The maduro is a sweet overripe plantain fried in hot oil and becomes a soft delicious treat. Perfect for breakfast at your casa or just a mid-day snack.

Medianoche

Literally translated to “midnight” this sandwich is a staple in Cuba. Made with egg bread and filled with pork, ham, cheese, and pickles. This is served in cafe’s, street shops, restaurants, and at nightclubs.

 Tostones

Another great plantain dish. Thickly sliced and fried twice until it’s a crunchy little potato chip. Served with every meal you will have in Cuba. You can actually buy some good ones at Trader Joes.

Marinated Pork

Chicken dinner-Cuba Food

My favorite meal in Cuba was marinated pork made at the Casa Particulares. It was moist, spiced, and so fricken delicious I just wish I knew how they made it. Pork is very popular in Cuba and commonly roasted whole for group gatherings.

Guarapo

Not technically a food, but still a common delicious refresher in Cuba. Fresh pressed sugar cane juice. It’s sweet and fresh and if you throw in a little rum makes a great cocktail. This machine is what they use to press the juice out of the sugar cane.

Sugar Cane Press-Cuba food

 

It could be a long time before Cuba is looked at as a “foodie” destination. But with all the new Casa Particulares and private sector restaurants begining to blossom with the increase in tourism, it’s only a matter of time. For now, good eating in Cuba will be reserved for those who knew where to look. <3

 

Question? Comments? Let me know here!