A Taste of Politics
Until recently, restaurants in Cuba were prohibited from serving more than a small seating of diners, essentially putting the kibosh on a vibrant restaurant scene. However, the relaxing of laws to do with private enterprise has foodies drooling over culinary outlets that are popping up all over Havana. From more formal hotspots to mom-and-pop eateries and the street vendors for which the island is known, there’s much flavor to savor in today’s Cuba.
Paladar La Cocina de Lilliam, Havana, Cuba; Class V, Flickr
As the first and last of the Spanish colonies in the Caribbean, Cuban food has a Spanish influence you can taste. Once a major trading port, Havana welcomed boatloads of immigrants from Spain, and along with them their distinct culinary flavors.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the U.S. embargoes that began in 1961, Cuba has both fostered and adapted many of its culinary preferences. Cut off from imports and isolated by many, the island nation was forced to cultivate a new means of importation. Strengthened by their ties to the Soviet Union, Cuba began introducing new food staples into the diet. For example, chicken and fish rose in popularity to rival the preferred meat of choice, pork. Beef all but disappeared from the culinary landscape; and as a result of the restrictions, American flavors are missing from Cuban plates–a rarity in our Western-influenced world.
In today’s Cuban dishes you’ll find a number of roots and tubers such as boniatos (sweet potatoes) and yucca. You’ll also see plantains and bananas in many recipes along with ever-present rice. Some of the more popular menu options include moros y cristianos (black beans and rice), lechon asado (slow-roasted pork) and sopa de camarones (shrimp soup). And of course there’s the cubana, a sandwich made of roasted pork that is a mid-day staple on the island.