As a Canadian who had never travelled to Cuba before, I had a misconception that Cuban food would be like Mexican: strong, hot, spicy. What I found was something quite different. Now in the hands of the good-hearted Cubans we met, food became delicious, and we had some lovely and extraordinary meals, especially considering limitations in availability of ingredients. But for myself, I found I was struggling to create meals, and needed help from those who knew what to do with the ingredients at hand.
Organic veggies, eggs, meat, the basics were all there, but quite different from what I was used to. Coffee, tea, sugar, honey, were all there, too, along with milk and yogurt, even spaghetti. Joe had said, “Once you get the food situation looked after….” and I hadn’t known what he meant. We came with some additional stuff he sent along for us: spices, olive oil, parmesan cheese and a breadmaker. And I brought my own teas. Now first of all I have to say that to a Cuban, our food is often very unappealing. We made chili one night that the some Cubans found too hot and intolerable, impossible to eat. Others were polite but not enthusiastic.To us it was normal, and quite tasty.
In this section of the site I’ll explore my reflections on the cultural difference of food in Cuba.
Bread, the staff of life
Everyone seemed to love the bread from the bread machine. We ate it fresh and hot, dipping slices in olive oil. Finding flour was okay, it was available in most stores but the yeast was difficult. At first we went to a bakery (a place that only makes this one kind of bread) and the guys there gave us a little yeast to get started with, but later I thought we should really buy some. Two people told us they knew someone who could get us yeast for Cuban pesos, but this didn’t pan out, so eventually I accepted that I had to go to the store, El Mercanto, and buy the big volume of yeast for $4.50 cuc that we hardly used any of. The only flour available was processed white flour, not a bit of whole wheat flour to be found. I’d like to think this was enriched. There was corn meal, and we tried that, but it didn’t seem to mesh with the white flour. What bread do the Cubans eat? Bakeries churn out the same white bread all over the island. It is always a very very light, squishy, white loaf. It is an airy bread that seems to have no substance, dries out very quickly, and makes an odd dried-bread type of toast that crumbles in your hands. All the many ham and cheese sandwiches are made with this bread, and it’s served at casa particulares in slices at breakfast.
There is much more to say about the food in Cuba, so I’ll be adding many more posts in this “Fidel Gastro” category in the future, exploring the following topics: What’s with the imported frozen chicken?; The best honey in the world; Puerco, Puerco, Puerco; Would you like rice and beans with that?; Twice-fried bananas: Cholesterol-Fest!; Incredible Coffee: Drink of the Gods; Cristal or Buccanero? and many more.