There are many reasons to look forward to calling on Cuba. From music and dance to cigars and Hemingway, the island has so much to offer. One aspect of Cuban culture we’re most excited to explore is cuisine. You’ve heard the phrase “the way to the heart is through the stomach”. Well, we believe the way to the heart of a culture is through food. When you cruise to Cuba with Azamara, you’ll experience the island as a local would – and that includes tasting delicious Cuban dishes!
Cuban cuisine has many influences: Spanish, African, Caribbean, and the indigenous Taíno culture. Particularly in Havana, you’ll also notice Asian influences.
Cuba’s tropical climate harvests fruit and root vegetables that are common in Cuban dishes, along with rice, beans, and meat. Mixed rice and beans (usually black beans or kidney beans) is called Congris, while Arroz con Frijoles refers to beans cooked in a soup, then poured over rice.
One of the most common dishes is called Comida Criolla, a dish comprised of fried pork or chicken, rice, beans, and viandas, the Cuban word for root vegetables.
Stews are very popular. Cuba’s national dish is Ajiaco, a chunky meat and vegetable stew. You’ll also see Ropa Vieja on a lot of menus. This stew is made of shredded beef or lamb, slowly simmered with green peppers, onions, tomatoes, and garlic.
Lechón is a dish that stems from Spain’s colonial influences. For this dish, a suckling pig is marinated in garlic and herbs before being spit-roasted over charcoal. In fact, pork is extremely popular in Cuban cuisine.
You’ve perhaps had a Cuban sandwich before – ham, roast pork, cheese, and pickle, layered between two slices of Cuban bread and grilled in a sandwich press. This sandwich has been popular in Florida since the late 1800s when travel between Cuba and Florida was frequent and Cuban cigar manufacturers set up shop in Key West. Some historians say the sandwich originated in Cuba, while others argue it was created in Tampa. Only one thing is certain – you have to have one while you’re in Cuba!
If you’re not a fan of pork or other meat, don’t worry. Seafood like lobster, shrimp, and fish are very popular in Cuba. Look for simple dishes made with fresh ingredients – pan-fried fish, or cooked enchilada, meaning in a tomato, garlic and mild chili sauce.
In addition to famous sandwiches and hearty stews, Cuba is home to some wonderful street food. Corn fritters, tamales, and pork burgers are commonly served from roadside stalls, as well as Pan Con Pasta, a type of bread with garlic mayonnaise filling.
Got a sweet tooth? Street food carts have lots to offer when it comes to desserts. Sponge cake topped with meringue is one of Cuba’s most popular treats, as well as coconut pies and shortcake biscuits called Torticas. You’ll also find fruity favorites like guava milkshakes and pineapple pizzas.
Cuba’s not only home to great food, but also fantastic drinks. Coffee is a very popular beverage, and integral to the Cuban culture. The island also boasts acres of sugarcane fields and is one of the biggest producers of rum in the Caribbean.
It’s said that Ernest Hemingway wrote “My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita,” referring to two popular Havana bars. Hemingway’s biographers have questioned the accuracy of this statement but either way, enjoying these cocktails is a must while in Havana.
The mojito originates from Cuba, although – like the Cuban sandwich – historians continue to debate the specifics of its creation.
To make your own mojito, muddle half an ounce of fresh lime juice, one teaspoon of sugar, and three sprigs of mint in a Collins glass. Add ice, then two ounces of white rum and top with club soda.
There are countless variations on the daiquiri out there, but nothing beats the classic. The recipe is simple: combine two ounces of white rum, one ounce of fresh lime juice, and half an ounce of simple syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake, and strain into a cocktail glass.
For the El Floridita “Hemingway Daiquiri”, combine two ounces of white rum, a quarter ounce of maraschino liqueur, three-quarters of an ounce of grapefruit juice, half an ounce of fresh lime juice, and a quarter ounce of simple syrup. Combine in a cocktail shaker with ice, shake, and strain into a cocktail glass. Sip while you enjoy Hemingway’s masterpiece A Moveable Feast.
The Cuba Libre, which means “Free Cuba”, dates back to the early 1900s, when Cubans were fighting to free themselves from Spanish rule. Elsewhere in the world, this cocktail is simply known as a “rum and coke”. It may be an unpretentious beverage, but it’s refreshing on a hot day.
To make one at home, mix two ounces of white rum with Coca-Cola in a Collins glass, add ice, a lime wedge, and enjoy.
Did this blog whet your appetite? All that’s left is to select your voyage! We hope you’ll join us in exploring Cuba – and perhaps enjoying a mojito or two – soon.
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