Simply put; traditional Cuban food is a fusion of Spanish, African and Caribbean cuisine. But that’s like describing a decadent ice cream sundae drenched in homemade hot fudge as “a dessert eaten with a spoon”.
And that’s just wrong.
So, now, let’s dig in and find out what Cuban food is all about.
Cuban food in 50 words or less.
Cuban food is typically based on citrus flavors and tomato based sauces. Tropical fruits—including mangos, avocados and bananas and their starchier cousin, plantains—play a starring role. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a Cuban dish that doesn’t feature at least one form of rice or another.
Even the history has substance.
In the late 1400s, Spanish colonists brought with them citrus fruits, rice, vegetables, and they grew sugar cane, a major Cuban crop. From Africa came other fruits, cereal grains and vegetables, as well as milk and meat products. Caribbean cuisine’s contribution to Cuban food includes rice, plantains, beans, and a host of tropical roots.
Cool off, Cuban style.
Before you order food, you can get your taste buds thinking tropical with beverage, most of which are made from the country’s beloved rum. Probably the two most popular drinks are Mojitos and Daiquiris. The refreshing Mojito, best-described as a traditional Cuban highball, is made from sparkling water, white rum, sugar (usually in the form of sugar cane juice), lime juice and mint. The basic Daiquiri is made from rum, lime, and a sweetener…but there’s an endless amount of variations too.
To order a beer at a Cuban restaurant, you can show off your knowledge and ask the waiter for either a Bucanero or a Cristal…the two most popular beers in Cuba.
Wake up on the sweet side.
Desayuno: If you’re going to a Cuban restaurant for the first meal of the day, you should know that breakfast usually starts with Cafe con Leche (espresso with milk & sugar) and toasted Cuban bread with butter. Taste something magnificent and show what you know by dipping the toast into the Café con Leche.
Almuerzo: Lunch here in the states is typically between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. or so and we grab it to scarf down at our desks or in our cars. Not the case in Cuba, lunch is usually in the late afternoon, between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., and is savored slowly. When you place your lunch order at a Cuban restaurant, you can start with a traditional Tomato and Avocado Salad. For an entrée try the Ropa Vieja (shredded beef in tomato sauce) with congri (rice with black beans) or the Lechon Asado (Cuban roast pork with a side of yuca con mojo sauce (root vegetable steamed and in a garlic, olive oil and citrus-based sauce).
Ease into day’s end.
Cena: Dinner tends to be pretty comparable to lunch, and sometimes even lighter. You can’t go wrong ordering a Cuban sandwich. A proper interpretation is made with Cuban bread, ham, roasted pork loin, Swiss cheese, pickles, and yellow mustard. Keep things authentic and add a side of maduros (sweet plantains) or arroz blanco (white rice). End the evening meal with a flan, a favorite Cuban dessert made from caramel and vanilla custard. Sweet dreams!
ASK YOUR SERVER:
Cuban dining and coffee go hand in hand…with breakfast, lunch or dinner (usually all three!). After your meal, if you’re up for a concentrated burst of caffeine, order the Cuban Coffee…which is what we consider here in the States to be espresso. Or you can ask your server for a Café con Leche, which is the espresso served alongside a cup of hot or steamed milk. A true Cuban restaurant won’t put the milk in the espresso unless you request that they do so.
Which of our aforementioned Cuban dishes do you enjoy the most? Are there any delicious Cuban recipes you would like share with us? Let us know in the comments sections below.