By: Sheyla Paz - Cuba Travel Expert Cuba is known for its delicious cuisine and traditional dishes You will be dining at privately own restaurants. Whether you are sitting outdoors enjoying the noisy streets of Cuba or inside of one a Cuban Owned restaurant, this is a feast you would yearn after you depart the island.
Every dish has it own merit and one can’t help it but to eat everything on the plate even if you are full. Well, maybe not all of it, you may end up taking a little bit home for later. Traditional dishes in Cuba includes: white rice and black beans, congris or moros y cristianos (like some people called them in other parts of the country), this is white rice and beans cooked together, fricase de pollo (chicken in a tomato sauce), puerco asado (roasted pork), yuca (casaba), bistec de palomilla (beaf steak), Sandwich Cubano (Cuban sandwich), just to name a few. Every time I tell people that we don’t eat spicy foods, they get surprised. Cuban food is seasoned only with garlic, onion, red or green bell peppers, sea salt, and cumin. Some people like to add oregano to some dishes and for the beans, you must add a piece of bay leave.
It is a tradition in Cuba to roast a whole pig on New Year’s Eve or special occasions such as when a mother gives birth, a Quinceañera celebration (15th birthday) or even someone’s birthday or returning home after being out of the country in a mission. Roasting a pig takes the whole day and it involves the whole family. It’s an eventful day and everyone is in a party mood. There always be a bottle of two of rum to drink while roasting the pig. The women of the house will prepare the adobo (seasoning) that will be put inside the pig with a loaf of bread and then spread all over the outside to marinate it and get a good flavor. While the pig is being roasted and the men take turns to rotate the pig on the stick in an outdoor hollow filled with firewood (it’s actually embers) so the pig will roast slowly with the heat.
By the end of the day, a feast will be serve. The whole roasted pig will be on the table with side dishes around it: salads, congris, yuca con mojo, tostones, ensalada fría, and of course dessert. The desert can be Tress Leches, Flan, Cake or even sometimes Churros.
You may not find this at the local paladar when you visit Cuba but you may be lucky to have a similar feast when visiting Viñales and have lunch at one of the ecological restaurants. I had been lucky to have lunch at Finca Marta where the cost is $15 CUC per person and they serve you a meal to feed an army. Their lunch includes: casaba (made out of Yuca), malanga chips (taro), seasonal salad, congris, yuca con mojo, calabaza (summer squash), boniato herbido (boiled sweet potato), fish of the day in a tomato sauce, fricase de pollo (chicken in a tomato sauce), chuleta de puerco (pork shop) and dessert. This time was papaya dessert. Also, they put on the table two big bottles of water and a bottle of rum. The house prepares a digestive drink with mint and cinnamon for you to drink before your meal. You can drink it just as serve or add a bit of rum for a nice kick.
For those that love seafood, a Mariscada is a must have while in the island. This dish will leave you fully satisfied and desiring to eat more of it. Since all seafood is the catch of the day, you will have the most fresh fish ever. The Mariscada includes: grilled fish, grilled shrimp and grilled lobster accompany with a seasonal salad. Talking about seasonal salads… In Cuba, everything is seasonal, specially the fruits and vegetables. During the summer starting in May, there is the mango, zapote (mamey), guayaba (guava) and sugar cane season. In the fall, there will be a lot of oranges and bananas. Although, it seams like there is always bananas of some kind these days in Cuba.
I think that I could write a book about Cuban food only. There are so many dishes and so many flavors that in just a few paragraphs, I can’t describe them. I just have to advise you to go to Cuba and experience it yourself. Go visit a Cuban family and hangout with them a whole day, you may get lucky and they roast a pig for you and your friends. For now, I leave you with these words, go to Cuba now and see for yourself how delicious our food is and eat at every private restaurant (called Paladar) you can find and try different dishes. You’ll be surprised how much you missed the cuban cuisine once you are back home.