Prior to visiting Cuba, we read up about eating in Cuba. The guide books said food wouldn’t be one of the high lights of our holiday in Cuba. Whereas many online articles pointed out examples of good Cuban food making it onto the menu. I collated a few of these articles here on the blog with it’s own page aptly named food in Cuba. So we thought as a family we were prepared. We were wrong.
I agree with many who said to eat at the Casa Particular you stay at. Especially your first night in Havana. Our first meal was a black bean soup, minced pork and rice with rich flavours that the kids enjoyed too. Although it took some coercing with the kids to eat the soup due to it’s colour. Our Casa breakfasts of banana, pineapple, mango, papaya, guava, ham & eggs and coffee was all the sustenance needed to walk up stairs in forts, museums and around the cities we stayed in. We were spoilt with mangoes really in Cuba as they were everywhere. We would get a glass of mango juice or guava each morning plus the cut fruit. We decided we liked guava juice but not slices of guava by the end of our holiday. The kids with these large breakfasts would forget about morning teas and snacks.
Driving as we did around Cuba we purchased fresh fruit & avocados from the street side stalls. It was a great snack option. The only issue we encountered was using CUC (Cuban Convertable Peso which is the tourist currency) where the locals were using the Cuban Peso. For each CUC it was around 25 Cuban pesos. We were happy to pay 1 CUC for a mango as they were huge by Australian standards but locals were buying them for half or a quarter the price. The avocados were huge in size as well. One was enough for two lunches between the four of us.
Every city you visit in Cuba you will find restaurant touts who get a commission cut from the restaurant owners. Some cheeky touts will even follow you down the road trying to get you to go to their ‘Cousin’s restaurant’ or some such. On the most part we used the recommendations either in our Lonely Planet guide or from our Casa Owner. We enjoyed our dinner in the restaurant on the top floor of the Seville Hotel in Havana. The food was really good and the view, of Havana was amazing. But it was an expensive restaurant and we wouldn’t be eating in places like this too often, our budget wouldn’t allow. My prawns in rich tomato sauce were wonderful. Likewise was Nigel’s beef & vegetables in red wine sauce.
We were very disappointed though with the lunch options in the cafe down on the ground floor of the Seville. We frequented that cafe often as it was the closest spot with internet access. One meal we sent back as the ham looked like spam and tasted well worse than spam. But we always found the coffee good 🙂 Aside, we at a lot of ham and cheese rolls in Cuba.
To quench the thirst in Cuba we always had bottles of water. On average all drinks were inexpensive, except for the two rounds we paid in Havana with the two locals we met. Read about our expensive drinks with Eva & Luis.
We tried out, as you would Mojitos just to make sure we were making them as right at home. I must admit, I like the ones we make at home a little more. Perhaps I put in more mint and sugar.
On the contrary the kids just loved drinking all the soft drink that was on offer. The kids are used to drinking water and fruit juice at home but in Cuba, it’s soft drink. By the end of our holiday they were keen to push soft drink aside and go back to juice. A little too much of anything will tire you.
We loved our huge breakfasts but by the last few days in Cuba we were looking forward to cereal. I did bring a small tube of Vegemite with us and the kids were keen to spread it on their toast on the last few days. To the amusement of our Casa owners who thought we were spreading tar.
As were were driving over Cuba we ate at many of the Paladar eating rest stops along the way. They had this tell tale sign of a thatched style roof with wooden posts which reminded me of buildings we found in Fiji as kids. Food, drinks, snacks and ice creams all good. Food options average but so is any rest stop in Australia. My only suggestion is to BYO toilet paper.
Driving across Cuba we saw crops of tobacco, coffee, sugar cane and heaps of corn. But we didn’t get any corn in our stay in Cuba. I thought with the heaps of avocados, corn and the Caribbean influence we’d get a corn and avocado salsa. But no, I wonder why.
I mentioned in another blog post about the broken down truck we saw in Santiago de Cuba. Men are trying to push a full laden truck with cabbage past the traffic lights. I wasn’t happy about them pushing it as I had enough of the vegetable. Rotten Russian influence. Unfortunately, they moved the truck finally and we got cabbage in our dinner that night. Cabbage is a lettuce alternative and was served on the side of many of our dinners. I think I saw lettuce once perhaps or it could have been cabbage in disguise.
In Santiago de Cuba we had one of the most memorable lunches near the fort El Morro. We sat down to chilli chicken, fresh fish, shredded beetroot, rice, cucumber and admired the view over the ocean and El Morro. Glad we visited the restaurant before walking around the fort. We had to walk off all that food we ate.
Many of the eating establishments near the tourist spots are government owned. All the guide books said they were average to ok. They were right. As many of them were outdoors we had to eat in the kitchen more than once due to the frequent rain storms. That was a novelty for the kids.
One of our restaurant highlights in Santiago de Cuba at El Holandes, opposite Casa de la Trova a little music venue and the birth place of Buena Vista Social Club. The menu was well priced, a mix of different flavours including chilli and BBQ. We loved our meals and decided we’d come back the next night to try something different. We asked our waiter to compliment the chef on the food. He did and the chef came out for a while and chatted to us about food in Cuba. He explained how the Cuban government has allowed Cubans to open their own restaurants and buy produce from markets and non government sources. This was allowing chefs to bring in a mix of food styles and flavours that they wanted patrons to eat. If you look at the menu picture below 8.00 CUC is for the Pollo a la Barbacoa is $8 AU. We can highly recommend El Holandes.
Another of the highlight restaurants was La Guardia in Havana. Luckily without a booking we got to eat at this well known restaurant. Sure we had to sit in the reception area and wait for half an hour but we got in. I told the kids to look hungry hoping that would ensure we got a table, it worked. Or perhaps the staff thought the kids expression might have put off other guests. Our dinner was the most memorable meal in Cuba. Everything we ate was fresh, tasty and had style down to the desserts and coffee. Highly recommend you book a table.
So a few months back in Australia we eventually got our taste of Coco Cubano in Crows Nest. It’s a Cuban restaurant chain in Sydney. The food on the menu was “safe” cafe food with Cuban names but not real Cuban food. Which made me think, did I miss the Cuban food we had in Cuba. Perhaps I did miss the cabbage after all.