6 of the Foods and Drinks You Must Try in Cuba
Cuba isn’t primarily known for its cuisine, but more so for its Cuban cigars, vintage cars, cobbled streets and pristine beaches. Considering it’s the biggest island in the Caribbean, one would expect it to be a big old juicy place of flavours, offering colourful dishes with plenty of spice. Alas, because of food shortages and a lack of spice, it’s a country which has got a reputation for boring and bland food.
Despite this though, in recent years’ private ownership of restaurants and a growth in organic farming has led to a surge in its culinary abilities. As regular visitors of the country, we’ve collated a list of several things you should try whilst in Cuba, to really embrace its culture and appreciate the country’s unique cuisine.
Trying the coffee of a country has become one of the first things we do, perhaps because we’ve just got off an early flight with little sleep, but we’d like to think it is because as well as cigar aficionados, we’re also coffee connoisseurs.
Coffee is drunk like water in Cuba, even the kids drink it (with a lot of milk). Served with warm or hot milk, it’s a must have with breakfast served alongside buttered toast and fresh fruit.
The coffee in Cuba is served strong and sweet, seems about right considering sugar is the country’s biggest export. The coffee beans are usually grown in the country’s mountainous east, home to some of the very best Arabica beans.
And there’s nothing like a Cuban cigar to go with your Cuban coffee, we’d recommend something medium bodied like the H.Upmann Half Corona.
Place we recommend: Arcangel Café is ideal to start exploring the city and offers excellent breakfast and brunch dishes.
Rope Vieja is considered a national dish and just had to be featured on our list. The legend goes that a father was struggling to provide for his family, unable to afford food. In desperation he shredded his clothes, cooked them and miraculously they turned into a meaty stew.
How a traditional Ropa Vieja looks when eaten in Cuba Photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/saucesupreme/4548825019
This dish, thankfully not made from old man’s clothes, is typically made using pulled beef, like brisket and cooked in a sauce of tomatoes, bell peppers and onions with plenty of spice. Many restaurants cook this national dish using beef, pork or lamb and serve it with a hearty helping of rice and beans.
For such a typical and legendary Cuban dish, we’d highly recommend smoking it with a Montecristo No.2, famous for its typical Cuban flavours and very popular around the world.
Place to go in Cuba: La Catedral is very humble and simple, it’s a restaurant highly recommended by locals.
Calle 8 Entre Calzada Y
Plaza de la Revolucion
Frituras de Malanga
Frituras de Malanga are the perfect little snack for on the go. In-between strolling the streets searching for vintage cars and visiting the country’s 200 pristine beaches, these easy on the go snacks will keep your energy levels up. The root vegetable Malanga is first peeled, then grated into a paste and mixed into a batter of eggs, garlic and spices. Deep fried, these become crispy and fluffy and are traditionally served with a dipping pot of honey.
Lightly battered and served with various dipping sources, these make for a delicious snack. Photo: https://twitter.com/SergiosCuban/status/854001551807053830
Something small and light to smoke would be the perfect accompaniment for when you're running around this gorgeous country. We’d opt for the Por Larrañaga Petit Coronas Cigar, smooth and flavoursome with a light to medium profile, it’s ideal.
Many street vendors offer this dish for very cheap and they are perfect mid-afternoon pick me ups.
A personal favourite, the Lobster Enchilado is a very delicious dish and one of our biggest indulgences in Cuba. Many restaurants in Cuba advertise this dish, because it’s a staple favourite among tourists and Cubans alike. Lobster in Cuba, is one of the more expensive dishes, but still very, very cheap compared to other countries. The lobster is marinated in a sticky garlic and tomato sauce and usually served in its shell with you guessed it, a side of rice and sometimes salty plantain chips.
After this fresh and salty dish, the Romeo y Julieta Fleur Milles cigar would be very complementary.
We've heard great things about El Ranchon in Trinidad. Deliciously spicy and a very hospitable welcome, this restaurant is said to be very authentic and excellently priced.
Churros are just as easy to find on the streets of Cuba as Frituras de Malanga, just don’t expect them to be filled with chocolate, it’s way too hot for that. Typical Cuban churros are deep fried sticks of dough dusted in sugar and cinnamon- yum! Best served hot, these can be eaten as a dessert or simply as a snack, perfect with a coconut or ice-cream also available on street stalls.
Churros being made by street vendors on the side of the road, ready to be cut and dusted with plenty of sugar and cinnamon. Photo: http://www.visitcuba.com/2012/04/churros-in-old-havana/
The quintessential Cuban drink, the Mojito was born in Havana and can be found on every single menu in town. It’s a cocktail made from white rum, mint leaves, lime juice, sugar and soda and it’s a definite must have in Cuba. Served with crushed ice and sugar on the rim of the glass, it’s one of our favourite Cuban cocktails.
The very best mojito can be found at Saratoga Havana, where you can smoke some Cuban cigars on the hotel’s roof top and soak in one of the best views of Havana.
603 Paseo de Martí