Cubans have achieved mastery when it comes to preparing meals from basic products available to them.
Allergies or vegetarians don’t have an easy life here, and once you find a store with full shelves, they look at you like you’re crazy for wanting to read the composition of products. As it is, you have to take it, and not picky that it is not eco, fatty, that it has gluten, lactose, sugar ;-)
Table of contents
How and what to eat in Cuba? (breakfasts, lunches, dinners…).
What did we eat in Cuba? Well, contrary to appearances, we did not starve to death. Tourists here are treated better than family members, and even more so if you pay with strong currency – you can then go to a real restaurant and hulaj dusza, order to your heart’s content (the choice is greater than in Poland!).
We were provided with breakfast as part of each night’s stay, and sometimes we also took dinner from our hosts. There was always a lavishly set table waiting for us at breakfast: bread (forget dark, whole grain or god forbid gluten-free bread!), tomato, cucumber, mortadella, scrambled eggs or omelet and the hit was fruit and fresh juices of pineapple, mango and guava.
Everything was beautifully served, on porcelain plates, and accompanied by coffee, tea and powdered milk in plastic thermoses :) Sometimes, we also got fried bananas, cocoa and other rarities.
Breakfasts were very plentiful and lasted a long time. Noteworthy is the fact that there was a separate table for guests, special tableware and there was no way to eat with the hosts. Sometimes a special breakfast was prepared for us on the terrace (for example, in Trinidad).
Also, dinners were often eaten at the casas where we stayed overnight. As a rule, the choices were meats (chicken, beef), fish or a rarity in the form of lobster (lobster).
With the last one there was sometimes a problem, because Cubans are not allowed to eat it, and if they have it at home it is only for tourists. Once the hosts refused to prepare lobster for us, because apparently they were afraid to have it at all…. Fortunately, we managed to taste it twice and both were really delicious (although prepared and served in two completely different ways).
In addition to lobster, we also ordered local fish and meats – we chose the type, and the hosts took care of the rest, and we always sat down to a lavishly set table, which in addition to the main course included soup (such as black bean or seafood), rice, mashed potatoes of every conceivable kind, lots of vegetables, and the traditional ice cream for dessert.
We also happened to dine in restaurants – in some, the choice is dizzying (from Chinese, Indian, European to American cuisine and that in one pub) and you can see a significant preponderance of foreign dishes.
Many have Caribbean touches: especially with the use of fruit (such as pineapple stuffed with chicken). The selection is really huge, in some restaurants there were more than 100 items, so the first thought that arises is whether everything is definitely fresh ;) Here there is something for everyone, including vegetarians.
In restaurants, either tourists or wealthy Cubans eat, well, because how can you spend 10 CUC on one dish? Unless they are celebrating – during one visit to the restaurant, Spanish “hundred years” were sung and played at different tables as many as twice.
If you’re looking for a restaurant, it’s best to ask the people you’re staying with about some recommended eateries (we ended up at some really tasty places this way, which we would have normally bypassed by a wide margin).
Eating out? Window food?
When it comes to eating out, there are a couple of options: either we eat like tourists or like locals :) Restaurants, hotels, ice cream parlors, grocery stores are open for tourists.
As I wrote above, if you have strong currency and stay overnight in a hotel, the day starts with a decent breakfast, around lunchtime dinner at one of the nearby restaurants, where you can choose to your heart’s content, with ice cream on the way (no line!).
As for how Cubans eat, on the other hand, it’s not so cheerful. First of all, the dishes are ordered in what is known as a “food court. windows – people in their own homes prepare meals and sell them from the windows of their own apartments.
How to know such a place? There should be a price list, a counter, a beverage machine, some sweets on display – depends on the location. It can be troublesome to discern prices, as a $ sign appears next to both CUP and CUC, but we never paid at any window in CUC.
Maybe we are lucky, but we ended up with very honest sellers (or they are so afraid of control), they never even wanted to keep the change. When we already wanted to get rid of CUP at all costs then instead of keeping the cash they pressed us with a lot of other things.
Going back to the windows: it is a very cheap form of food (e.g. fresh fruit juice £1, sandwich £2), but we must remember that the choice is very limited. Nonetheless, Cubans are surprised at how many ways you can sell a roll: with mayonnaise, with mortadella, with fried egg, boiled egg, with sausage, with fruit, etc. :)
At first it was fun for us, but after a few times we started to get bored with the same flavors. It’s also useful to know Spanish, because you can’t count on the lady at the window to speak English, so be sure to remember the numbers and the food.
In addition to sandwiches, the windows also offer pizza, burgers and hot dogs. Simple in its simplicity, but you can try it :)
What struck us was the enormous amounts of salt – not only is the pizza very salty, but Cubans the first thing they do after getting it is add salt! The food is also greasy, and a hamburger means exactly a bun with meat, not some lettuce, tomato or extra sauce.
Poor Cuban cuisine
This is a very cheap form of food, but unfortunately not in the long run – we lacked extras, vegetables and increasingly appreciated what we have in Poland every day. We calculated that for 10 zl a day we would have food for the whole day: sandwiches for breakfast, pizza for lunch, a sandwich for dinner plus some fruit, ice cream.
And while we’re on fruits and ice cream :) This is the best thing about Cuba – fresh, healthy, unsprayed fruit (pesticides are too expensive, so they don’t use them). Often straight from the tree, they cost pennies, and hosts sometimes gifted us with a bag of mangoes, bananas or guava for the road.
We’ve always had them on hand, and they taste very different from ours. We also often bought fresh fruit juices, whether in restaurants or at the windows. Delicious! After returning to Poland, we realized that these fruits available in our country are not the same….
And the ice cream? We will already inextricably associate ice cream with Cuba. They’re not delicious (we’ve eaten better, especially the Italian ones), but it’s more about the whole environment around them. On the streets we will buy ice cream so-called. Italian from vending machines, but we recommend you go to a typical ice cream shop, such as Coppelia in Havana, stand your ground in line to try the local ice cream.
If you are lucky you will hit more than one flavor of ice cream :) On the menu for this several items: 1 ball, 2 balls, 3 balls, ice cream with sprinkles, ice cream with toppings, etc. Plus they bring a glass of water for an appetizer :) At first we ordered blind, but after one time we understood what was what and for how much.
We were captivated by the plastic plates, as well as the Cubans who come here with entire families and pack their ice cream to take away in thermoses. We also found a similar ice cream shop in Cienfuegos, but already without queues and with a larger selection of desserts (such as fruit). We paid perhaps PLN 2 for the cup.
Of course, if you need a larger selection, a nice interior, comfortable chairs, there will also be ice cream parlors on the grazing, but also the prices are then relatively higher.
I hope we have brought you a little closer to culinary Cuba :) As we mentioned many times before, the country is changing and probably in a few years there will be more and more restaurants and local bars will be scrupulously hidden from tourists. All the more encouragement: fly as soon as possible!!! :)