Who doesn’t enjoy the Cuban sabor? Cubans are probably one of the most well known Latino groups in the United States, and of course they are most famous for their food!
For years, my family headed to south Florida for vacation each spring, and we would always stop at our favorite restaurant for a heaping plate of delicious Cuban food: tamales, Cuban black beans, and maybe a bit of flan for dessert.
Cuba can be hard to visit, but if you find yourself in the Miami area, you can get a little taste of Cuba by visiting Calle Ocho and the surrounding Cuban neighborhoods. You’ll see the Cuban flag flying on every corner and plenty of bakeries, restaurants and cafes.
Where Does Cuban Cuisine Come From?
Cuban food is a mix of Spanish, African, and Caribbean cuisines, which makes sense because these three groups of people have been living on the island for centuries now.
African slaves brought their taste for root vegetables and a habit of mixing rice with all kinds of foods, as well as a love of plantains.
The Caribbean influence is apparent in the use of seafood and light, citrusy sauces. Cuban food’s spice palate is also similar to what is found in the rest of the Caribbean.
The Spanish influence on Cuban cuisine is strongest in Havana and western Cuba, where European-style omelets are common.
The Elements of a Typical Cuban Meal
Tamales, which are a sort of dumpling made with corn flour and pork and cooked inside a corn husk, can be served as a main course, but they are more traditionally presented as an appetizer.
A salad of lettuce, tomato, and avocado is typical. In my mind, salad is optional–don’t fill up on greens where there is more exciting Cuban cooking at hand.
Cuban Rice and Beans
As in many Caribbean countries, some sort of rice and bean dish can always be found on a Cuban table.
Red beans and rice is known as congri while black beans and rice is called moros or simply moros y cristianos.
Often the rice and beans are flavored with “sofrito”, a blend of sautéed onions, garlic, and green peppers.
Vianda is the Cuban term for any of the starchy tubers served along with meat, like yucca root, potatoes, and even plantains or unripe bananas.
Although you’d expect seafood to play a big role in Cuban cuisine, in reality meats like pork and beef are much more common. One popular meat dish is ropa vieja, or beef simmered in tomato sauce until it falls apart into shreds that look like “old clothes”.
Cuban desserts are extremely sweet. When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. Cuba used to and still does grow tons of sugarcane, so naturally sugar has been widely available and Cubans developed a taste for it.
Popular desserts include flan, capuchinos (cones of yellow cake soaked in sugar syrup), tropical fruit tarts, and meringue puffs. Sugarcane juice is also a popular drink.
If you don’t have the time or appetite for a full Cuban meal, you can always grab a Cuban sandwich. A hot sandwich sort of like a panini, a Cuban sandwich typically consists of roast pork or ham, Swiss cheese, and mustard between two slices of light and crusty Cuban bread.