Living in Cuba

Exploring and Living in Cuba

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Part of the excitement of living abroad is discovering new foods and beverages. In Cuba you will find your eating habits will probably change once you have had the opportunity to savor the native cuisine. Cuba, like every country in the world, has its own style of cooking or comida típica. Cuban dishes are a mixture of Spanish and African cooking combined with fruits and vegetables native to the island.

Be awarse that getting suppliescan be a daily challenge in Cuba. People just don't know what they'll be able to find in the shops on any given day, so planning meals is done by serendipity. In most cases this should not pose a problem for expats who shop in upper end establishments.

One of the most popular dishes is moros y cristianos (literally 'Moors and Christians') consisting of rice and black beans. Picadillo is a dish made of ground beef and assorted vegetables. Congrí (rice and kidney beans) and frijoles dormidos (sleeping beans) are other popular bean dishes. Arroz con pollo, chicken and rice, is also widely consumed. Ajiaco, a type of rice vegetable stew and a little of everything else is very tasty. Pollo asado (roast chicken) and cerdo asado (roast pork) are also popular dishes. Empanadas which are pies filled with meat and very good.

 Because Cuba is surrounded by ocean on all sides, there is a variety of seafood from which to choose. One of the most delicious dishes is sopa marinera. It is a mixture of different seafoods in a soup base. Lobster, shrimp, and other varieties such as grouper and red snapper abound. Chinese and Italian foods are also part of the Cuban diet.

 Cuba has a large selection of tropical fruits and vegetables that are most often combined and eaten with other foods. Yucas (cassava root), ñames (yams) and chayotes are some of the most common vegetables. Palmito, palm heart, is often found in salads.

 The most widely consumed fruits are: pineapple, papaya, guayaba, and bananas. The latter are used to make plátanos maduros (fried sweet bananas) and tostones (fried green banana chips). Fufú is boiled green bananas mashed into a paste and seasoned with salt.

 Since Cuba produces sugar, it is not surprising that Cubans have developed a sweet tooth for a number of sugar-based desserts. Most Cuban desserts are very sweet. Churros (a type of straight doughnut), are a favorite, flan (a type of Spanish custard), dulce de leche, buñuelos and coco quemado are typical Cuban desserts. Granizado is a dessert made of shaved ice with sugary syrup much like a snow cone. The renowned Coppelia ice cream parlor in Vedado, Calle 23, esquina. Calle L, serves some of the best ice cream in Cuba. There is even an ice cream shop in Miramar that sells authentic Italian Gelatto. 

 When the embargo is eventually lifted and relations between the U.S. and Cuba normalize, you will probably be able to buy your favorite flavors of Baskin Robbins, Ben and Jerry's or Hagen Daas ice cream. An American-style ice cream parlor would be a good start-up business in one day.

 If you have a craving for your favorite food from the States, there are upper end grocery stores already selling a few U.S. food products for dollars. Some of the better known brands available are: Campells Soup, Heinz, Del Monte, Libby's, Kraft, Bumble Bee, Progreso, Uncle Ben's, Planters, Gerber, Motts and Purina to name a few.

 Coffee and rum are the two most popular beverages. It is impossible to talk about Cuban cuisine without mentioning Cuba’s excellent coffee. It is usually served very strong and following meals or by itself. Café cubano is a type of coffee that is brewed differently and served like expresso in very small cups with large amounts of sugar.  Café Americano is weaker and served in a larger cup.  Café con leche is strong black coffee and hot milk.

Refrescos or non-alcoholic fruit water-based drinks are found all over. They are a cross between sweetened fruit juice, fruit punch or Kool Aid. Guarapo is a juice made from sugar cane. Tropicola is the local version of Coke or Pepsi and most widely consumed.

 Rum or ron is the national drink of Cuba. Both white and dark rum are produced from sugar cane and molasses. Cuba’s abundance of tropical fruits are combined with rum to make a variety of exotic cocktails. The famous daiquiri is made with light rum and green limes. Mojito is a similar drink made with rum, lime juice, sugar and water. The Piña Colada (a pineapple based drink) and Cuba Libre (rum and coke with a slice of lime) are also favorite drinks. Cuba’s bartenders are considered by many to be some of the best in the world and have won many contests.

 Beer is another favorite beverage. In terms of popularity, most foreigners seem to gravitate to either Cristal or Bucanero. Cacique and Mayabe berrs are slightly more popular with the local Cuban crowd. Beer conisours can find more information here: http://www.ratebeer.com/country/cuba/54/ You can also find a few U.S., Mexican and Canadian beers. A number of wines are imported from Spain, South America, France and even California.

 Most hotels have bars serving a variety of exotic drinks and offering spectacular views from their top floors. The bars at the Hotel Ambos Mundos, Hotel Plaza, Hotel Inglaterra and Hotel Nacional should be visited. There are also other bars worth checking out. Try Papa's at the Hemingway Marina.

 There are a couple special 'watering holes' deserving special mention. La Bodeguita del Medio is famous for its legendary mojitos and being a one-time Hemingway haunt. El Floridita was another Hemingway hangout and the birthpalce of the daiquiri. Check out the statue of Hemingway seated at the bar. The Dos Hermanos Bar is another place to "wet your whistle." Over he years Ernest Heminway, Federico García Lorca, and Benny are some of the characters who have all frequented this establishment. Other cities and towns have less famous but abundant places to have a drink.

Fabrica de Arte Cubano in Vedado (www.fac.cu) is located in a defunct oil factory The multi-floored building is part art gallery, part DJ dance club, part concert hall, and part film/performance theater. It is huge, with enough outdoor areas and bars to satisfy the hundreds of hipsters who wait in line for an hour to get in every weekend.

For more entertainment and dining see:

 http://www.lahabana.com/guide/

Guidebook

Official Guide to
Cuban Spanish

Official Guide to Cuban Spanish

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