Food and Drinks in CUBA
“Good food is very often, even most often, simple food.” – Anthony Bourdain
The food and drinks in Cuba are one of the things you will remember best from your trip to the Caribbean country. I read somewhere recently that the food in Cuba is not very good and it is better to bring some sauce that you can add to make it tastier. Absolute nonsense. Many people who daily eat processed food or food cooked by someone else, not by themselves, seem to have no idea of the true taste of food and its quality. In this case, as with many other situations in life, not quantity is important but quality. Not the diversity but the nutrients you are taking with the food. And last but not least, the minimum amount of chemicals and poisons that continually we absorb with our food today, without even realizing it. So as I said absolute nonsense!
I’ll start by saying that the food in Cuba is not truly diverse. At least until now. After dropping the embargo imposed by the United States, perhaps this will change. Traditional Cuban menu consists mainly of grilled chicken, accompanied by a side dish of white rice with brown beans or boiled manioc. Plenty of fruit is self-explanatory and the local beer is faithful companion to every lunch or dinner. Cuba may have a very poor menu, but the food is genuine, produced in the most closest to the natural laws manner in farms with vast areas where less equipment is used and manual labor is the main working tool. Although during your stay you will notice the limited selection of dishes offered in hotels and restaurants, do not forget that some of the things you will eat are reserved exclusively for tourists. Cubans themselves eat quite limited products, queuing for milk, and if someone dares to kill a calf for personal consumption goes directly to jail. So, be grateful and be happy with what you are offered.
Cuban chicken has the taste of chickens ate from our grandparents before the birds have been put in small cells and filled with hormones and other “useful” substances for faster grow. For me it was a real revelation because its taste reminded me the time when my grandmother raised her chickens in the yard, free and well fed. In Cuba many of hens and roosters are walking free, even in some restaurants and hotels in the province. It’s hard not to stumble into them sometimes. But don’t think that they represent a dirty sight, they are just part of the landscape and are like a pets. I don’t mention here one of the traditional ways Cubans entertain – the officially banned but still practiced cock fighting. This is a topic of another post in which I will share where and how was able to watch such a cockfighting, which generally are not allowed for foreigners.
Rice and Beans
One of the dishes that will be served everywhere is rice with beans. It is a caloric bomb and stodgy dish, which in itself is quite nutritious even without being accompanied by roast chicken. Frankly, it is not very tasty but it is interesting to try, because such a combination of rice and beans is not common in other parts of the world. At least I am not aware of. After several days of daily consumption of this side dish, you will be pleased to replace it with boiled manioc that tastes like potato and I liked very much. There are also manioc pancakes which are awesome breakfast with a good Cuban coffee. Sometimes, but rarely, rice and beans were replaced by banana chips, which becomes dry and tasteless after cool.
One of the problems that I meet while traveling is with the breakfast. Generally I eat gluten-free, and almost everywhere at breakfast are served only bread and baked goods. In Cuba this problem was missing. The abundance of tropical fruits, juicy and delicious, made me extremely happy. The antioxidants and sugar that I was taking in the morning through the pieces of pineapple and freshly squeezed juices from mango and orange, were enough /together with the coffee, let not forget its importance!/ gave me enough strength to face all the challenges of the day.
The variety of fruits and freshly squeezed juices is great and they can be found everywhere and cheap. Try them because their taste can drastically differ from the fruit you buy at your local supermarket. And of course the Cuban grown in the wild fruit win on all counts.
In two words – there is no variety, but it is very tasty. The crisp crust of bread hides a small almost empty core, which is very good for the body because spongy soft heart of today’s bread made from white flour forms a sponge in your stomach, which when absorbing more water becomes larger. Yes, I know, it sounds terrible but it’s true. In such cases, do as the Italians do – remove the inside of the bread before consuming it.
Cubans are “spoiled” and only drink good coffee. Coffee that is served to tourists they call “americano” and say that no Cuban would drink it. And yet, even the tourist coffee is not bad. Coffee is among the top 10 hings worth buying in Cuba. It is grown on the high slopes of Escambray Mountains where you can buy it directly from farmers, otherwise packaged quality coffee you’ll find in stores with the brand name “Serano”.
I’m not a beer fan, but I know that Cuban beer is well appreciated by visitors. With my female logic, I most liked the green can of “Cristal”. Here is info on the best beers in Cuba that Cubans themselves like most.
And of course, the Cocktails
With cocktails the variety is greater than what you can imagine. I will mention just a few classic cocktails that you can try – Cuba Libre, Daiquiri and Presidente. Some bars and restaurants have made their own specialties, which have become recognizable among customers and attract visitors. If you like me love coconut, most probably your favorite cocktail will be Pina Colada. Not to forget also the famous Mojito which goes particularly well to drink at sunset, when coolness is in the air and the tropical night had just begun.