Cuba, the colorful, beautiful country of South America, frozen in time, till recently of course. The Cuban people have been living under the US embargo on trade and travel since the rise of Castro to the forefront of Cuban politics in the 1960s.
In Cuba, necessity is the mother of inventions. Jerry-rigged kitchens, urban farms, underground restaurants run out of homes. The lack of outside influence and modern tools has forced chefs here to create delicious dishes against the odds. So naturally, there has to be innovations on how the Cubans are growing and cooking food here, blocked out from the influence of the outside world. Now that the travel restrictions have loosened up, people can really taste first-hand the deliciousness this country has to offer before outside influences flood in.
There is a huge web of politics and regulations that govern the food culture in this country. For years, no private restaurants were allowed. Everything was state run. In 1993, the Cubans were allowed to open small family run businesses called Paladars. The idea of not having a lot of product to work with and being a genius with how you create your food and serve it to your guests is what kept the Cuban cuisine progressing over the years despite near a half-century ban.
In Cuba, the concept of fancy fine dine restaurants is still a rarity. Instead, the Cubans have Paladars, or the restaurants run inside homes. One of the most famous paladars is La Guarida, located in Calle Concordia in central Havana. Locals also call it “The Paladar of paladares”. It is located in a four-story palace. As time passed, La Guarida became one of the most popular places to visit by tourists and visiting dignitaries. It became so popular that even the Queen of Spain once visited La Guarida for dining. The best part about this paladar owned by Enrique Nunez is that every ingredient is locally grown. So, its basically farm to table.
Cuban cuisine has a lot of influences from the Spanish cuisine due to the colonization of Cuba by the Spaniards. Another contributing factor to Cuban cuisine is that Cuba is in a tropical climate, which produces fruits and root vegetables that are used in Cuban dishes and meals. When cooked together the recipe is called "congri" or "Moros" or "Moros y Cristianos" (black beans and rice). If cooked separately it is called "arroz con frijoles" (rice with beans) or "arroz y frijoles" (rice and beans).
Let’s take a look at some mouth-watering, delicious traditional Cuban food:
1. "Masas de cerdo fritas" (Fried pork cubes)
Specialist says that delicacy of this dish is reached by chopping fresh meat into cubes, salt is added and sealed or fried to achieve an incipient degree of cooking. Then cookers buried this cubes in lard in a can or barrel and there are preserved. After several months, these cubes are removed and re-fried. The smell and taste are special and unique.
2. "Picadillo a la habanera" (Mincemeat Havana-style)
A classic of Cuban cuisine is the habanera beef meat mince. The original recipe contains raisins, capers, and olives, ingredients that we can find, or not, in today's Cuba. Even so, what should not be missing from this dish is the marinade of sour orange, tomato puree, garlic, cumin, red pepper, and fried potatoes. This recipe has reached great notoriety and is present in many world restaurants.
3. "Chilindron de Chivo" (Goat)
In Cuba, a variety of goat is breed, which everyone calls them "chivos". With its meat, Cuban Chilindron is prepared. It is washed with plenty of sour orange juice, add salt, spices, tomato puree and let it cook in dry or cooking wine, although in many regions of Cuba it's preferred to be cooked in beer. We always find this plate in Afro-Cuban religious celebrations. It's a typical dish for family gatherings and friends.
4. "Rabo encendido" (Spicy Oxtail)
One of the irresistible dishes to taste in Cuban cuisine. Cuban variant of this delight guarantees that beef is juicy and smooth. His name doesn't lie, this bull tail cooked with red wine, tomato and pepper contains a good dose of hot pepper. So tread lightly.
5. "Bistec a la Guajira" (Steak Cuban farmer style)
We can enjoy beefsteak, or pork, in this variant of the Cuban fields. It consists on frying and accompanying meat with abundant onions and red pepper chili strips. Another modality Guajira Steak is the one that suppresses the chili. It's the famous onion steak. As its name implies, the steak is covered with a generous portion of onion rings.
6. "Guanajo Relleno" (Stuffed Turkey)
In Cuba, peacocks are called as such, but those that are not peacocks but turkeys, are called "guanajos". Unlike turkeys stuffed with meat in other cultures, on the island turkeys are stuffed with "congri" rice. Meanwhile meat is roasted, rice finishes cooking inside bird and is impregnated with it's juice. This is one of most exquisite "congris" that exists and among the fillings of Cuban cuisine; the stuffed "guanajo" is the most famous of them.
7. "Arroz con pollo" (Rice with chicken)
For many years, this have been a usual dish for Sunday lunches. In many Cuban families, it implies a whole ritual. Begins with the slaughter of chicken in the morning, with which it is made broth or also a succulent soup. While that happens, family members are arriving, they are entertained with some drinks and others collaborate in the kitchen. Some helper crushes "bija" or "annatto", a seed that confers a yellow color to the rice. Beer is usually added at the end of cooking and garnished with strips of roasted peppers. In some families, it tastes very wet and compact, like paella, and in others, they prefer the husked or loose rice. Both variants are exquisite.
8. "Tasajo" (Dried meat with tomato sauce)
For these years, it is common to find this recipe made with beef, but the original Cuban recipe is with horse-meat. Centuries ago, it was food for slaves, today is a gourmet excellence. The correct process of smoking and marinade used in its preparation provides Tasajo's flavor. Quite a specialty.
9. "Ropa Vieja" (Shredded meat with tomato sauce)
It is the most popular dish in Cuban restaurants. The shredded beef, like "old clothes", enjoys the approval of locals and foreigners. Marinade with sour orange (always the sour orange in Cuba) a good tomato sauce, onion and chili is the secret of so much popularity.
10. Roasted Pig in a Pit
Of the roast pork in Cuba, you can write a whole treaty. Whether roasted in "Pinarena" box, on a grill, in an oven or in barb, this dish represents the cusp of Cuban culinary festivity. Infallible during December 24 and 31 celebrations, waiting for the New Year. The most recognized variant is the barbed piglet. The meat cooking lasts almost all day, the best excuse to make a family and friends party around the barbecue. Moreover, of course, a whole day of celebration and delight.