My first experience with Cuban food, believe it or not, was in Miami, Florida. While it’s fairly close to Cuba “as the crow flies,” you can’t get there from here. But Cuban culture is very popular there and I remember eating fried plantains and a massive Cuban sandwich from a food cart, looking out over the Atlantic, wishing a ferry would take us over to try more of the same. Thankfully, today, Cuban restaurants can be found all over the UK and in many popular destinations, so you don’t have to go to Cuba to try it (though I do recommend doing so). Regardless of where or when, here are my top five favourite things to eat from Cuba.
Out of all the foods of Central/South America, the plantain might be my favourite of them all. I can’t say I truly understand the difference between a banana and a plantain, but once you taste one expertly prepared, you’ll know. And oh, the many ways to serve a plantain. In Cuba, fried plantains are the most common, served up as a side dish or sometimes as a dessert (or, heck, a starter while you’re at it). You can also find mariquitas, which are essentially plantain crisps (sliced thin and fried to a crisp, then salted). I’ve also had them boiled or mashed and used to create other preparations. It’s so versatile no wonder it’s so popular.
I guess it isn’t surprising that fried balls of food are a universally popular cuisine, but the croquetas that you’ll find in many European and Central American countries are also here in Cuba. Cuban croquetas usually have a mishmash of ingredients, such as fish or ground beef, and often include rice and cheese as filling. They’re a great finger food and often cafes will have their own versions, so perhaps no two croquetas are ever the same.
Don’t let the pig put you off (at least it’s fresh); you might be thinking, a sandwich? But really, the Cubans have perfected the art of the sandwich. It starts with the bread, which is delicious and has a unique texture. It’s made with a bit of lard, which probably isn’t the healthiest thing but it sure is tasty. Then you fill it with fresh ingredients; pork is a common one, ham and cheese is another, or even the famous Elena Ruz: cream cheese, strawberry jam, and turkey. These sandwiches are inexpensive and make for good sightseeing, on-the-go food.
A common staple around much of Central and Latin America, this is a tourist favourite because it’s simple and easy and you know what you are getting. Arroz con pollo just means chicken with rice, and it’s usually dressed up with flavoured rice and some tasty rub on the chicken, so don’t think it will come out plain. They say this dish originated in Puerto Rico, but given its simplicity, I’m sure it could have showed up anywhere.
If you speak Spanish you may be wondering why a dish called “old clothes” is a Cuban favourite. I suppose in a way the shredded meat and the rich sauce that accompanies it may look like dirty laundry, but it certainly doesn’t taste like it. This dish came to Cuba via the Canary Islands, and is widely considered a national dish; its usaully served with black beans and rice.
Posted : Thursday, April 21st, 2011 at 11:00
Andy Hayes is a travel journalist currently based in Seattle, Washington. When not soaking up the Pacific Northwest lifestyle or enjoying life on the road, he is spending time hanging out on his own travel lifestyle magazine, Sharing Travel Experiences.