Cuba is known for many things. Vintage cars, cigars, coffee, sugar cane, music, Che Guevara; but it is definitely not known for its food. This was my first time visiting Cuba and I came to the country with an open mind and a hungry stomach. I wanted to see for myself how is the food and I am glad to say I’ve had some delightful meals during my stay.
As many of our readers will know, I am quite fond of my little crustacean friend the lobster. Given Cuba is an island in the Caribbeans, I would imagine they would have the freshest access to what the sea has to offer.
My first meal I was welcomed to a playful presentation of a Spiny Lobster Tail, ironically at a restaurant within the Dolphinarium which I recommend everyone to visit if you’re ever in the Santa Clara region of Cuba. The lobster tail was cooked perfectly with a nice bounce and a subtle sweetness. As with most entrees in Cuba, you will find that there isn’t an over abundance of carbs or veggies on the dish. Their food portions are much more sensible, similar to what you would find in Canada.On a different evening, I was able to witness the most sophisticated gastronomy I have seen during my entire trip in Cuba at the Hotel Valentin Perla Blanca. Our first course features a Chicken Caesar Salad that had been deconstructed. For those not familiar with the terminology, it means to take the ingredients of a traditional dish and present in a new and innovative way. In the below example, this is done by having the salad dressing at the bottom of the glass bowl, with a piece of romaine lettuce, a generous slice of grilled chicken, and a fried anchovy. I noticed that Cuban chefs like to use anchovies in their Caesar Salad to add a level of saltiness to the dish.
I will be transparent and honest, the salad wasn’t the most delicious thing I ate in Cuba, but the notion that these chefs are capable of creating a deconstructed dish speaks volumes to the level of culinary talent that exist in Cuba. The potential was there and the plating presentation was beautiful. With time, as these chefs gain access to more ingredients and harness their craft I think Cuba will start to have some talented chefs in their arsenal.
In terms of drinks and cocktails (you’ll be doing a lot of drinking in Cuba), the Hotel Valentin Perla Blanca once again offered the best mixologists during the entire trip. They were well presented, meticulously measured, and hand crafted to perfection. These drinks are far better than the $16 cocktails that you would often find in a posh bar on King Street in Toronto. The venue where we had dinner was beautiful, filled with table center pieces, live musical performances, and seat covers. If you’re ever looking for a destination wedding venue with all the bells and whistles, I would strongly recommend at taking a look at Cuba and this particular venue.I would be remiss to not mention that the one item that is readily available and I am quite familiar with in Chinese cuisine is none other than the roast pig. I am not exaggerating when I say at least 30 pigs sacrificed their lives for us during this trip. The pigs in Cuba are delicious, slowly roasted and cooked over an open fire, with no foul or unpleasant taste. The skin is crispy and I recommend you ask for a piece as they do not typically offer it by default.
If you are not a fan of seafood, then you cannot go wrong with having the roast pig. My favourite parts are the belly portion and by special request you can ask for the jowl which is the cheek. It is super tender and full of flavour with a unique texture.
When I look back at my trip in Cuba, I can honestly tell you that the food was much better than I had imagined and hoped for. It was nothing like the descriptions and reviews I have heard from my friends and colleagues that had visited Cuba. I think if you haven’t been to Cuba in several years, definitely give it a shot and see the progression of culinary talent that exist there today. Who knows, by the time you book your next vacation we would have already seen a next progression of skill and talent.
My favourite meal of the entire trip was of course all the charcoal BBQ lobster tails I could eat at the Hotel Playa Cayo Santa Maria where we had our dinner at a beach party on the first night. I will leave you with a quick video below. Stay tuned to more posts about my time in Cuba.