There are few corners of the Caribbean more intriguing than Cuba. Its unique culture, fascinating history and beautiful beaches all form part of an experience no visitor will forget in a hurry.
But what happens when you find yourself strolling through Old Havana around dinner time? You’ll want to sample some of the delicious local cuisine, and believe us when we say that you’re in for a real treat.
Cuban dishes are often tailored towards a more communal style of dining, with the whole family sat around the table enjoying a hearty meal together. Here are five traditional favourites to keep an eye out for during your visit.
1) Arroz con Pollo
Simple and effective, this chicken and rice dish is classic Cuban cuisine. At the heart of the dish is the delicious sofrito, a classic sauce consisting of onions, peppers, garlic, tomatoes and a heady combo of herbs and spices.
This is incorporated into the broth, which includes a generous splash of beer to create a rich, deep flavour. Chicken breast, thighs and drumsticks are all fried and added to the pot, where they can cook through slowly and let all of the wonderful ingredients course through them.
Authentic Arroz con Pollo generally uses Valencia short-grain rice to create a texture not dissimilar to paella or risotto. The rice soaks up all the broth, before it is piled onto the plate, topped with the succulent chicken and garnished with roasted peppers. Tuck in!
2) Ropa Vieja
This wonderful dish sees prime flank steak cooked slowly in a flavourful broth, to the point where it almost melts in the mouth.
The beef can be stewed for hours in pursuit of optimum tenderness, and our old friend sofrito is used to good effect again in the creation of the broth, which is generously seasoned with cumin, coriander and white vinegar.
The appearance of the finished dish is what gives it its name – ropa vieja translates as ‘old clothes’. By the time it’s finished, the steak simply falls apart, giving it the beautiful texture that makes this dish such a treat. You can find it served with rice, or perhaps even a bowl of nachos with sour cream.
3) Cuban Sea Bass
Fish fans will love this Cuban-style sea bass dish, which uses a recipe so simple you could easily replicate it when you return home. The mild, meaty fish is left to simmer in a sauce containing tomatoes, onions, olives, capers, red peppers and white wine.
The whole thing takes next to no time, and the fish is simply served with a generous helping of sauce alongside whatever side dish takes your fancy.
It turns out that pretty much every country is partial to a good sandwich, and Cuba is no different. You will probably notice a distinct US influence in the Cubano, a popular lunchtime snack among the locals.
The all-important fillings are roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard, while some variations also throw in a slice or two of salami. All of this is crammed into an authentic Cuban bread roll and toasted so that the bread is crispy and the cheese just melted.
The Cubano is very closely related to another Cuban favourite, the medianoche. This sandwich features pretty much the same fillings, but uses a slightly sweeter bread containing eggs. Its name comes from the fact that is commonly consumed around midnight, and has even been served in nightclubs to keep revellers’ energy levels up.
It makes sense for us to finish with a dessert, and this one is a Spanish favourite adapted by many Latin American countries, including Cuba.
It is essentially a baked egg custard, topped with a rich, dark caramel sauce. Freshly prepared caramel is poured into the baking dish and allowed to set, before the custard is poured on top. It is then put in a water bath in the oven until the custard sets and cooled prior to serving.
For anyone with a sweet tooth, this is the perfect, authentic way to end your Cuban meal.
Our Cuba Uncovered walking holiday is the perfect opportunity to experience these culinary delights for yourself. They’ll give you the energy to explore all the wonderful sights that Cuba has to offer, from bustling cities to historic coffee plantations and the majestic Viñales Valley.
Who knows, you may even discover a favourite Cuban dish of your own while you’re there?