A Foodie Guide to Cuba

By CrustyCanucks - February 23, 2018



Any regular readers of this website will know very well by now that the Crusty Canucks absolutely love to eat.

In fact, our passion for food and gastronomic delights is part of the reason we love to travel so much. Why? Well, there is simply nothing more magical than enjoying a delicious local meal in a lovely travel destination. Your mind gets an insight into the culture while your taste buds get to dance, what could be better than that?

And that brings us to Cuba. There is a reason we have been to this enchanted island so many times over the years, and it’s the Cuban food. Yes, historic Havana holds a place in our hearts for sure and the beaches have taken our breath away, but it’s the food that we dream about on a long winter night.



(Okay, maybe the warm weather doesn't hurt either)

For those looking to follow in our footsteps on their very own food-focused holiday or tour to Cuba, we figured we would put together a foodie guide to Cuba for all those who share our passion.

The following are just a few of the specialties you should try to get on our plate.



Ropa Vieja 

No discussion of delectable Cuban food would be complete without "Ropa Vieja", regarded by many as the nation’s national dish. In fact, we have yet to meet a Cuban on our travels who didn't hold a warm place in their heart for Ropa Vieja. Heck, even the Airbnb host we befriended a couple of years back declared to us that he was a “vegetarian except for Ropa Vieja!”.

The dish has succulent shredded beef as its base, but it's the seasonings and the juices that will stay with you. Expect to see some of the softest and tastiest bell peppers of your life mixed in with the juicy beef and a side of rice to accompany the dish.

The best place to eat it: La Catedral in Havana.

Ajiaco

While we definitely go to Cuba for the sunny and warm weather, every once-in-a-while you can catch a cool day (especially at night). For those evenings, we love to tuck into a bowl of "ajiaco" to warm us up from the inside.

Some local foodies that I know swear that this stew manages to pull off the impossible: boil down all of the legendary culinary history and diversity of Cuba into one simple dish. And we tend to agree.

A bowl of Ajiaco stew will vary from family-to-family and town-to-town, but you can almost always expect to see vegetables from Africa (a nod to the island’s African heritage), tomatoes and corn (native to Latin America) and bacon and meats that were brought over from Spain.

The best place to eat it: At the Ajiaco Cafe, of course. This amazing restaurant is located in the charming village of Cojimar—just a short trip from Central Havana—and serves up homestyle fare in addition to offering cooking courses.

While they do focus on traditional recipes here, they are also trailblazers at helping Cuban cuisine keep up with international trends.  In fact, you can expect to see such delicacies as truffle oil on the menu here and they even use honey instead of sugar in many of their dishes.




Lobster

Lobster? In Cuba? I know what you are thinking but I promise you that the lobster here will be some of the best you have in your life. Due to some restrictions on what seafood can come into the country, the only fish you will really see on menus are ones that are locally caught, but unlike in some countries where the lobster is then all sent abroad, in Cuba, it stays right at home ... on your plate.

The lobster will always be fresh and it is usually served up simply grilled with just a touch of butter.

The best place to eat it: La Dichosa. This might just be our favorite restaurant in all of Cuba. While you can get great grilled lobster all over the city (and some that are just as good as the lobster at La Dichosa), you simply cannot beat their super cheap “lobster & cocktail” special.

Yuca con Mojo

It is true that you can find this dish throughout the Caribbean, but nobody does it like Cuba. Created by marinating the yuca/cassava in oil, lime and garlic with onions, the flavors are a beautiful mix of citrus and spice. In our experience, if you see the word “mojo” next to a dish in Cuba, it’s going to be good.

The best place to eat it: La Guarida in Havana. Their version has knocked our socks off on more than one occasion.



Pizza

While pizza is certainly not a Cuban invention, the Cuban people are absolutely mad for pizza. Expect thin and crispy crust and mild cheese on a myriad of classic toppings. Quality can vary wildly from shop to shop, but if you are like us, you will find your favorite place during your trip, and return a few times for a “quick slice”.

The best place to eat it: Mundo Pizza, while they are little on the pricey side (by Cuban standards), you get what you pay for.



Lechón

While normally more associated with Puerto Rico in the world of foodies, there is no doubt that Cuba knows how to do suckling pig right. "Lechón" is the name for slow-roasted pork that is marinated with a tempting mix of orange, onion, garlic and assorted tasty herbs and the results are just as delicious as they sound.

I still can’t believe how many helpings of this delicious dish we had during our first trip to the Island and even though I’ve had pulled pork at many local restaurants in the American South, this still is my favorite version.

The best place to eat it: El Palenque. This thatched-roof beachside eatery in Havana is proud of their version and will serve it up with a heaping helping of rice.

Tamales

While many people may associate tamales with Mexico, anyone who has visited Cuba knows that the Cuban varieties are something special, too. We have had so many different "tamales" on our trips to the island that it’s very hard to hammer down a specific type or description of what makes a tamale a “Cuban tamale”. Ingredients vary wildly with peppers and chicken being two common, but certainly not dominant, flavor profiles.

The best place to eat it: In our experience, tamales are best eaten in the rustic homes of locals than at fancy restaurants, but we did have a great tamale at La Vitrola. Yes, La Vitrola, the restaurant that serves food on records and is sometimes known for being a bit touristy does indeed know how to serve up a tamale.


Churros

Take it from the Crusty Canucks, there is positively nothing better than feasting on a fresh-fried "churro" at night in Cuba. Yes, these decadent doughy treats are as tasty as you would imagine (you will even spot some versions that are more crispy-chip than our beloved doughnut). They are typically served with melted chocolate and once you taste your first one, you will know you have arrived in Cuba.

The best place to eat it: You will find street stalls dotted all around the city and we have found if you just look for the longest line of locals, you are into something when it comes to churros. If we had to pick one though, we’d say the stall on Plaza Vieja run by a very friendly older woman.

Coffee

We couldn't live without coffee and no discussion of food in Cuba would be complete without talking about the amazing locally-grown coffee available in this country. We never end a meal at a paladar without a cup with our dessert, and you shouldn’t either.

It was in Cuba that we first learned to appreciate drinking coffee black and milk is not quite as common as it is in Canada. Now, we use our Aeropress and only drink it black … all thanks to those beautiful Cuban beans.

And we didn’t even have time to talk about the rum cocktails. Perhaps I have just stumbled on to the idea for my next post ...












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