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Cuban Food & Culture

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

Cuba and Canada have a long standing relationship that has create an appreciation of both our countries. Canada is the number one country in terms of tourism in Cuba. I've done a fair bit of traveling as a chef, and Cuba as of recent years has become a favorite destination. Some may ask what the attraction is over other similar destinations? For me, it's more about the culture than the food, though the food can be very good if you know where to go.

The key to finding the real foods of Cuba, is getting out of the resorts. If Cuba has a bad reputation for food, it lies mainly with the resort food. In the smaller towns and cities you will find everything from amazing and cheap street vendors to fine dining.

Cuban Culture & History

Cuban culture is influenced by its melting pot of cultures, primarily those of Spain, Africa and the indigenous Tainos of Cuba. After the 1959 revolution, the government started a national literacy campaign, offered free education to all and established rigorous sports, ballet, and music programs.

Cuban cuisine is a fusion of Spanish and Caribbean cuisines. Cuban recipes share spices and techniques with Spanish cooking, with some Caribbean influence in spice and flavor. Food rationing, which has been the norm in Cuba for the last four decades, restricts the common availability of these dishes. The traditional Cuban meal is not served in courses; all food items are served at the same time.

The typical meal could consist of plantains, black beans and rice, ropa vieja (shredded beef), Cuban bread, pork with onions, and tropical fruits. Black beans and rice, referred to as moros y cristianos (or moros for short), and plantains are staples of the Cuban diet. Many of the meat dishes are cooked slowly with light sauces. Garlic, cumin, oregano, and bay leaves are the dominant spices.

Rice, Beans & Plantains

Like the origins of most native cuisine, ingredients are often determined by what’s abundant and available. In Cuba, rice and beans offer sustenance and comfort as a side dish to almost every meal. It’s typically prepared as black beans and white rice in hearty portions. Some dishes require other ingredients, like arroz con pollo or rice with chicken. Plantains are another Cuban staple. Similar in texture and taste to a banana, they can be prepared fried and salty, called tostones, or stewed and sweet. A popular starter is tostones rellenos, which are fried plantains stuffed with anything from garlic shrimp to spicy beef.

Mojo Criollo Cuban cuisine also represents the melding pot of the island’s Spanish to African influences. This is no more apparent than in its sauces and spices. Mojo criollo is a popular sauce prepared with anything from chicken to pork, typically made with garlic, oil and sour orange juice.

Ropa Vieja One of the most popular entrees in Cuban cuisine is ropa vieja. This stewed shredded beef dish is slow cooked in fresh tomatoes, onions, peppers, garlic and wine to create a mouthwatering meal. And following its origins, the dish is accompanied by white rice, black beans and sweet plantains.

Pescado, Gambas y Camarones With both Cuba and Key West surrounded by the sea, it’s only natural that seafood is a staple of Cuban food here. Whether it’s a mahi-mahi filet marinated in Cuban criollo sauce or shrimp drowning in a garlic and wine sauce, fresh fish is definitely on the menu.

Cuban Mix Sandwich, Cuban Toast & Pork Talk about a true Cuban classic. The Cuban mix sandwich is a staple of this cuisine. Made with roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard pressed on crispy Cuban bread, it’s a satisfying sandwich loved by many.

The two most important ingredients of the Cuban sandwich are the pork, which is a staple of the Cuban diet, and the crusty Cuban bread. Similar to a French baguette, yet more light and fluffy, this style of bread is made with a small amount of lard for texture.

Ive included a recipe for basic rice and beans, the cornerstone of most island nations to the south. Enjoy this with anything from pulled pork, bbq beef or chicken.

rice & beans
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So, I am hoping to spend Christmas in Cuba this year, It will be my second time, once before the pandemic, and it was fantastic. Looking for More information and recipes for International cuisine? Or maybe a culinary arts education, join us right here on the site! Cheers and have a great weekend!

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