Monday in Trinidad: Doubles with heavy pepper for breakfast. Tuesday in Cuba: Toast bread and egg. Food culture shock was in effect!
Cuban food is a combination of Spanish, African, Native American and Caribbean cuisine. When I think about Cuban food…and especially after frequenting some Cuban restaurants in Miami, I imagine frijoles negros (black beans) and plantains…lots and lots of them! I was quite surprised when I got to Cuba and only had black beans once….and actually no plantains during my 5 day stay. I assumed that every restaurant’s main meal would consist of beans, rice, plantains and some type of meat…..I was in for a surprise!
Our apartment was located on one of the main streets in Havana so we chose not to rent a vehicle which meant that food adventures included restaurants in close proximity to where we were staying.
Unfortunately halal food was not readily available at restaurants therefore our options included seafood and vegetarian meals which was no surprise to us when we travel as many places do not have halal food easily accessible. To my surprise, however, most of the dishes were prepared and served in the same way at all the various food spots we visited. What do I mean? Well, many times you would visit restaurants and see fish with rice and veggies, but at the different restaurants, the preparation/taste would be different. For example, one restaurant may have fish in tomato sauce while another would be fish in garlic sauce or some sort of different prep! In Cuba, everywhere we ate, the meals were the same…. the exact same thing!!!. Grilled shrimp and rice with veggies consisted of plain white rice, shrimp (with the veins in them) with not much seasoning and simple cucumber, cabbage and carrot on the side (see pics below). No matter which restaurant we ate at, this was what the grilled shrimp dish looked like.
The pastas were also almost the same taste and preparation at the different restaurants and so were the pizzas. I was in shock! I will admit though that these were delicious! A lot more enjoyable than the rice and shrimp/fish.
As a spice mouth and muslim foodie, eating in Cuba was a bit of a challenge. For those who aren’t Muslim there are many different options for you to choose from but for us we were limited.
Apart from the rice, pastas and pizzas, there were lots of Cuban sandwiches available which consisted of ham, chicken and other meat options but unfortunately we could not indulge in these.
Each restaurant we visited however had very friendly and helpful staff members. Prices were fairly cheap for meals but it’s important that you remember many places don’t accept credit cards (read more about that here).
Now let’s take a look at some of the restaurants we visited:
Breakfast in Cuba usually consisted of bread, cheese/eggs. One restaurant we visited was Topoly which was located one minute walking distance away from where we were staying. This Iranian restaurant had a very delightful and inviting breakfast platter consisting of fruit, jam, naan and egg, cake. It was different from any of the other breakfast we had while in Cuba. It was a cute restaurant spot with seating that had a view of the busy streets.
2) LA CALLE
Our favorite spot to eat was a restaurant called ‘La Calle’. We had an AMAZING thin crust tuna pizza. The only time I had fish pizza before this time was in St. Vincent (Read about it here). In addition to the pizza, we also had a cheesy spaghetti, another delicious meal! The staff was so friendly at this establishment. This is a spot I will definitely eat at again!
3) BALCON DEL HABANA:
This was one of the more expensive restaurants we visited for dinner. It was a lovely setting however and I was quite pleased with the food. When we asked some people we met earlier to take us to a restaurant that has real authentic Cuban food, this was where they took us. I got black beans and there was actually curry… of course you know I had to try it. It was goooodddd!!! The best part was the pepper sauce available at this establishment! I was in heaven lol…. it reminded me of a good Trini hot pepper!
4) KIKI’S CLUB:
This lunch spot was located in Varadero which was 2 hours away from Havana by taxi. It was a great spot located just across a lake and near to the beach. Our waitress, we found out, had actually visited Trinidad a few months before. Can you guess what we had for lunch?….Yup!…. we had a shrimp pasta and pizza lol…and mummy decided to try the lobster dish.
5) LA TABERNA DEL PESCADOR:
After Jummah salaah(Friday prayer for Muslims), we were taken to this spot by a Muslim brother as they served halal meat. It’s a small restaurant located roughly a 3 minute walk from Mesquita Abdullah (the mosque in Havana). Of all the places we ate at, hubby loved this food the most! He had beef with rice and I went for the usual….shrimp and rice. It was a very small food spot but enjoyable nevertheless.
As a Muslim foodie, food adventures in Cuba were not what I anticipated. I was amazed to see the food culture that existed. There were hardly any veggie stalls around and there were few small shops that sold only sugar, flour and rice. We were told that certain food products such as potatoes are only available in December. The food resources in Cuba were limited. Despite these things, I was truly amazed by the love each person we spoke to, had for Cuba!
Although we didn’t find things like broccoli and the variety of food we have readily available on a daily basis, I learnt a great deal from this trip! The simplicity of the Cubans’ lives and the loyalty to fellow Cubans and their country are things that we, in the busy world, need to have more of.
If you are interested in visiting Cuba, you can check out my blogpost TIPS TO MAKE YOUR CUBA VACATION MUY BIEN (February, 2018) for some pointers.
As always, thank you so much for stopping by and for taking the time to read this post. Have you been to Cuba? What was your experience? Send me a message or leave me a comment!