One of the first things I was told by everyone when I said I was going to Cuba is that the food is terrible! As a foody I was naturally very curious. Could this really be true? Could a whole country that exports such great things really be that bad at food? The answer is no!! It’s brilliant! So many different choices.
The saying of our holiday became “why eat in a place that looks like a restaurant” – the majority of our best meals were in places that looked like houses or even looked like a building sight. So never judge a book by its cover…
Firstly breakfast, we never ate out for breakfast, preferring to eat in our Casa Particular. It was great not having to walk around looking for somewhere to eat, we always get so grumpy if we have to go too long between getting up and having breakfast. In the three places we stayed they all had a very similar set up – fruit, cake and/or biscuits, pancakes, bread, eggs and of course coffee! We never went hungry. The mango de bizcochuelo is by far my favourite. It’s slightly sweeter than your average mango you get down at the supermarket and a great way to start the day. The eggs were done okay as most places don’t tend to add enough butter and seasoning which can make them a little dry. If your Spanish is up to scratch I’m sure you can ask them to add some. The main thing is we were full for our full day of sight seeing!
The coffee here is amazing, even their “cheap stuff” is better than you £4 Starbucks. And at around 1.50 CUC you really can’t go wrong. One of the best we had was after hiking around the Topes de Collantes National Park just outside of Trinidad. It was a cute little coffee estate known as Finca Codina. All but one of us had an espresso the other having a cortadito, an espresso topped with steamed milk and slightly sweetened. Even after our long hike we were all slightly buzzed after!
At this point I don’t want to write about every single meal we had so I’ve picked some of the top ones or parts…
Christmas Day we had traditional pork, potatoes and Cuban rice. This doesn’t sound like much but it was delicious. The pork was so tender with a little fat on it to keep it moist. I think it had been marinated in lime juice. The rice, known as Moros and Cristianos (Moors and Christians to use English folk), was definitely a highlight, it’s very simple as it’s just black beans and white rice but it’s done so well. We continued to sought it out at pretty much every meal afterwards.
Pork is very popular over here, I think at least one person of the group has had it every day. One of the best ones was in Havana where it came on the bone with crackling and everything! They manage to keep it all very tender, I never had a dry pork dish in the whole time we were out there. If you’re not sure what to have on a menu always pick the pork, I would be so surprised if you were disappointed.
Seafood is obviously readily available with Cuba being a hot climate island. I’ve never eaten so much lobster in my life and it was none of this £25 a portion. I think the most we paid was 15 CUC for a whole lobster with sides of veg and rice. Like all places you can get it there is a chance it will be over cooked. This did happen a couple of times however they always seem to flavour it well so you end up minding a lot less (you also remember the price). We had sushi one lunch time; on arrival the restaurant looked like a shack. We would have never guessed it would serve some of the best sushi I’ve had! Starting with a mixture of Sashimi, Ceviche, Tataki and Sushi Rolls. It just tasted so fresh and perfectly seasoned! The presentation ways also so gorgeous. It looked like they really put some love and care into it. Their mains weren’t quiet as good but my swordfish was still very tasty. They did just recite the menu to us with no prices so we were a little fearful that it might have cost us one of our kidneys but when paying it was 200 CUC approximately £20 per person. This included starters, mains, beers and water so it actually felt like a steal!In another restaurant my sister-in-law had some of the best garlic prawns known to man, served warm in oil and with lots of bread to dip in it was a great starter. I also had a fish fillet in another restaurant done in a similar way (they never seem to tell you exactly what fish fillet it will be but it always seems to be a white fish). I had to order extra bread to soak up all my oils and juices, I didn’t want any of it to go to waste.
On the bread front a small warning, it can be massively hit and miss! If you ask for bread you can’t be guaranteed it’s bread and not toast. 90% of their bread is very good, light white bread but toast is a different story. It can be dry and seem that it’s about a week old! Again if you speak Spanish well enough emphasis you would like bread…you’ve been warned.
With such a strong Spanish heritage you can naturally get some great paella! For our finally lunch in Havana we decided to get some to ensure we were all very full before our long journey home. It did not disappoint. Cooked to order in traditional paella dishes you had to order a minimum of 2 portions. Not that hard when you’re a group of 8, always someone who will want the same…or in this case we were split in two! All wanting the restaurants award winning or the Cuban paella. Perfect! It takes around 25 min to cook so we had a few cheeky starters to tie us over. When the paella arrived we were all amazed! It was served in the dish it was cooked it and we dove straight in. It was delicious! And super filling which is exactly what we were after. Ours was filled with lobster, shrimp and chicken and it was amazing, I would say a must do in Havana! They do however leave the shells on the lobster when they look it like this so keep an eye out for those shells and be prepared to get your hands messy.
Street food is also great, though very heavy on the sweet dishes. When you think about this it makes sense as they produce so much sugar. We naturally had to have some churros! They were cooked in front of us and only 50c (10p), you can have a choice of tops but we stuck with the classic sugar. Another one we tried was something called a Cappuchino, a cone shaped sponge soaked in syrup. You will definitely get a sugar high from these. The second I finished it I wanted another but managed to restrain myself, just. The final thing we tried where Chivircos, what can only be described as fried dough. They were okay though a little dry, probably my least favourite of the three.
I really was surprised about the food we had. I know we were very lucky having a local show us many of these spots and I also know without him we probably wouldn’t have found a fraction of them. But it really is yet another thing the world has wrong about Cuba. So you can now add food as one more reason to head there ASAP!