Cuban cuisine of today has elements of Spanish, African, Arabic, and Caribbean cuisines. Also, still present are the native traces of Taino food. Here, we’ll look at some interesting facts about the Cuban cuisine, which is famous for its cooking and preparation styles the world over.
Did You Know?
African slaves have contributed a lot to the Cuban cuisine.
Cuba being an island, seafood was always amply available and generously added to all quintessentially native preparations. The tropical climate ensured the production of several fresh fruits. When Spain colonized Cuba, the Spanish cuisine made its way into the island of Cuba and went on to become an integral part of the country’s food palette. The Spanish then brought Africans to this island as slaves. Just like the culinary traits of Spain, African dishes also found a home on Cuban land. Together, all these historical and geographical factors contributed in the evolution of what we today call Cuban cuisine.
Cuban Moros y Cristianos
Perhaps the most recognized Cuban preparation is Arroz con Frijoles, a dish consisting of rice and beans cooked separately. Rice cooked with red beans and rice cooked with black beans are called Congri and Moros y Cristianos respectively.
Though beans are prepared using the same ingredients, such as onion, garlic, salt, and bay leaves, the preparation style changes according to the region.
Meat is a very integral part of the Cuban cuisine; seldom is a dish prepared without it.
The Mojo or Mojito is the most common sauce used in the Cuban cuisine and is almost entirely resemblant of the Mojito sauces prepared in the Canary Islands. It is prepared using oil, garlic, and onion. Oregano and lime juice are also added.
In Cuba, the food is mostly sauteed or slow-cooked in light sauces. Rarely is it deep-fried.
The mixto or the Cuban sandwich was introduced as a lunch item in Cuba by the cigar workers of Key West and Ybor City, Tampa.
Cuban Tamale in Corn Husk
Tamales are commonly cooked in Cuba but aren’t quite like the Mexican ones. They are made with Sofrito (sauce made essentially from onions, garlic, and green bell peppers) and wrapped in corn leaves. They are then tied and boiled in salt water. Just like the black beans soup, tamales have indigenous roots.
For flavoring and seasoning, lime, sour orange, tomato, onion, garlic, pepper, olives, and raisins are used. Liquids used for flavoring purposes include vinegar, white wine, and beer.
An eatable made of mashed plantains stuffed with pork, chicken, or seafood, fufú de plátano is a product of African influence on the Cuban cuisine; the name ‘fufú’ comes from Africa.
Cuisine experimentation in Cuba is almost nonexistent owing to the food distribution system called Libreta de Abastecimiento, meaning ‘supplies booklet’. This booklet establishes the quantity of supplies a family can buy and the frequency of purchase.
Interesting Trivia about Cuban Cuisine
A dish called Ropa Vieja literally means ‘old clothes’ in Spanish.
This is because this particular version of shredded meat cooked in red sauce closely resembles old clothes. Like the Mojito sauce, this dish is also from the Canary Islands.
Not legal to sell beef and lobsters!
Though beef and lobsters (Cuba has a thriving lobster industry) are integral parts of the Cuban cuisine, they are cooked rarely because both these items are stringently controlled and rationed by the government.
Dessert gets the country’s name!
The popular Spanish custard called Flan has a Cuban variation and is considered to be a regional gastronomical delicacy. So much so that it is called ‘Flan de Cuba’ in Spanish-speaking countries.
The indispensable Chinese …
Yes, the Chinese have reached here too, albeit just in the form of food. Chinese dishes such as sopa china-a type of soup made with egg and onion-and arroz salteado-a type of rice preparation-are quite popular in Cuba.
Sandwich named after a society debutante!
The Elena Ruz sandwich is famous all over the world among foodsters. Miss Elena, a 1930s’ society debutante, would often stop at El Carmelo in Havana and ask the waiter to prepare a sandwich that had a layer of cream cheese on one slice of Cuban bread and a layer of strawberry jam on the other with thin slices of turkey breast in the middle.
Being home to a rich cultural heritage and an eventful history, it is not surprising that the cuisine of the largest island in the Caribbean will be just as colorful and varied.