10 Things You Should Know About Cuban Food

When I think of Cuba, I have a certain taste in my mouth: rice, beans and a piece of meat, a little greasy. And a Bucanero or Cristal beer. Not to forget the flan for dessert 🙂 That’s the essence of Cuba to me. But food is much more for the Cubans, it is culture – and tells us a lot about the Cubans themselves. Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are.

Blick in den Innenraum: Cafe TV im Edificio FOCSA

Cafe TV at Edificio FOCSA

So, a little list about Cuban specialties, the Cubanews food list so to speak 😉

  1. Eating together with your family is sacred. You gather around the dinner table, a quasi-ceremonial act. Here you find the core of the proverbial Cuban family. Since families often live in one house, up to four generations meet at the table.
  2. Eating in Cuba takes time. And you take it, too. Don’t rush a Cuban with eating – there is (almost) no fast food in Cuba for a good reason, everybody takes their time to eat! My experience as a university lecturer: the lessons start when all students are back from the lunch break. There is no way you can force them to appear earlier!

    Screenshot: Nancy, kochen für die Götter

    Nancy from “The Taste of Havana”, the Cuban multimedia cookbook

  3. The main ingredient of a good meal? Meat, lots of meat, preferably beef. The more the better, quantity instead of quality. You can see it especially in the younger Cubans, who are round and healthy – that also stands for: I can afford good food.
    A restaurant is typically judged by how big the portions on the plate are, so the burger paddy can crack a little while chewing, crunch, crunch, as long as there is a lot of meet…
  4. You are Vegetarian. Then I cook chicken! Or fish… And the salad on your plate isn’t for dinner, it’s just for decoration.
    Vegan??? No one on the island has heard of it. So if you live vegan, be prepared for a nasty surprise, because even the rice can contain pieces of meat, for the taste.
  5. Sugar everywhere: yes, the Sugar Island. A typical question could be: do you want some more coffee in your sugar? For all those who want to know how sweet a coffee can be before it becomes solid, try a Café Bombón!
  6. Spaghetti al dente?! Your teeth sometimes need a break, that’s why Cuban spaghetti are soft – and are cut with a knife. Afterwards you can eat them much better :-0 The poor Italians who regularly visit the island must be heartbroken!
  7. Rum Cola instead of Cola Rum: a challenge for us is the mixing ratio of the classic Cuban drink. While here in Germany we serve the cola with about 4 cl rum, for the Cubans, the cola is just the colour that makes the rum a bit more attractive. Cubans are used to this highly alcoholic drink, obviously, and drink slower than we Central Europeans. The effects on us Germans are normally devastating – I had the funniest stories with my students – as a small hint: don’t hold on to the sink when vomiting, they are not always firmly fixed to the wall 😀

    Cibo Cafe

    Chicken in the Cibo Cafe

  8. No chillies, although the Habanero chilies are called after Havana: Cubans do not eat hot, never – they are not Mexicans. So don’t be fooled, the chilis just got their name from Havana, they were just travelling through on their way to Europe. And you won’t find any pepper on the table in a restaurant, as the Cubans don’t use it.
  9. Rice is not only part of the food, it’s the food. Okay, the meat, see above, may be more important. But the largest part of the food is rice, as white rice, as yellow rice or as Moros y Cristianos. And bread? Bread is not real food, just for inbetween the real meals. Neither are potatoes, by the way. Maybe the sweet potato or French fries, but  just as a side dish.
  10. The state restaurants are now predominantly self-governing cooperatives. Unfortunately, this does not change the quality – which is considerably better in many, but not all, private restaurants. But the best food you get at home when the Cuban housewife is cooking. So if you ever get the chance to taste home-cooked food in Cuba, go for it – maybe your Casa-Mama will cook for you or an acquaintance invites you. You are thinking of a present to bring with you? Bring chocolate (from your country) and rum, they’ll like you even more.

Conclusion: Cuban food is delicious!

Cuban food may not be a speciality cuisine like French cuisine, but neither is German food. And to understand Cuban cuisine, it is enough to travel back in time to Germany during the years of the economic miracle in the 1950s and 60s. My mother told me that it was in the sixties that she ate bell peppers for the first time, in Bavaria, closer to Italy. There was no such thing as peppers in Berlin. And Cuba, an island, not only geographically but also culturally, still has a lot of catching up to do. I just read that the second Japanese restaurant in Havana has opened, so not much variation.

But regardless of the kind of food you like and eat: food is a cultural heritage in Cuba, so get into Cuban cuisine – preferably the food of the Cuban Ama de Casa, the “owner of the house”!

I wish you buen provecho, enjoy the Cuban food!
Saludos says your Cuban reporter,
Dietmar

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