The ultimate beach destination, Cuba boasts high temperatures year-round and enviable sugary beaches in abundance. A sun-kissed country that stuns with its unmatched beauty, Cuba is a vibrant cocktail of emotions. The heat is running through the veins of its locals who are as passionate as the waves embracing the powdery shores, the sunset reflecting on the crystal clear waters… But can this unrested vibrancy be found in Cuban food and drink, too?
The most popular Cuban food
Cuban cuisine might not be as colourful as the vibrant culture, but it still offers delicious local flavours.
A blend of Native American, Spanish, African, Caribbean and even French, Chinese, Arabic and Portuguese cuisines promises a great variety of hot, spicy dishes, yet somewhat surprisingly Cuban food mainly relies on basic spices (garlic, cumin, oregano, bay laurel leaves), favouring safe seasoning over fiery flavours. Simplicity is key and although you will not find the most exciting gastronomic delights here, you could still enjoy some of the local dishes on offer.
Case in point: the Cuban sandwich – delicious Cuban bread lightly brushed with butter and filled with layers of yellow mustard, sliced roast pork, glazed ham, Swiss cheese, and thinly-sliced dill pickles!
Fresh local produce
You can count on fresh local produce and fresh seafood, so when in Cuba do not miss out on the delicious grilled fish, the lobsters and the shrimp. Meat lovers will love the lechón – a suckling pig marinated with salt, garlic and sour orange juice, then roasted over an open fire and slowly cooked to perfection for several hours. Absolutely delicious.
Truth is, if you love meat you will be just fine in Cuba. The locals usually slow-cook their dishes over a low flame, meaning you can expect tender, well-cooked meat that is literally falling off the bone: shredded beef or lamb, delicious stews, tender pork… In terms of flavours, meat and poultry are often marinated in citrus juices, while the typical seasoning for most dishes is the sofrito – a mix of onion, green pepper, garlic, oregano, and ground pepper fried in olive oil. Expect a meal to be accompanied by a hefty side of root vegetables like yuca, malanga, and boniato. And there’s always loads of white rice, black beans and sweet fried plantains, too!
Cuba’s most popular desserts
Cuba is a big country in sugar production, so expect plenty of great desserts on your Cuba holiday.
Apart from bread and rice puddings, both of which are pretty popular in Cuba, the flan, or Flan de Cuba is probably the signature and most popular dessert here. Rich, creamy and with a soft caramel top it melts on your tongue, a silky smooth sweetness putting the perfect end to every meal.
Then, there’s the crispy golden goodness of the Buñuelos. Best enjoyed with sweetened syrup or lightly dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar, those little dough balls are a popular snack in the region. A traditional Christmas dish, it’s also an important part of Mexican cuisine.
Going back to rice again, in a typical Cuban fashion, rice puddings are usually a dessert of choice. Arroz Con Leche is a milky, silky and rich Cuban rice pudding made by boiling white rice with cinnamon sticks and lemon, then adding evaporated milk and condensed milk. Refrigerate until cold.
Now, when it comes to cocktails Cuba is an absolute winner, the reigning queen of delicious alcoholic concoctions. So many of the most famous cocktails have originated in Cuba and for a reason! The hot climate, the powdery sands perfect for beach parties from dusk till dawn, and the gifted local bartenders all provide a great base for the smooth sweetness of a cocktail with a kick. Let’s be honest, if you don’t have a cocktail in hand here – what are you even doing in Cuba?
It all started with rum…
As Cuban as an expensive cigar, rum is the blood that runs through the veins of this hot, hot country. Known as the ‘Isle of Rum,’ Cuba has all the right ingredients: world-famous sugar cane, a favourable Caribbean climate, fertile soil, and, of course, the unique know-how of Cuban master rum-makers. The leading Cuban rum is Havana Club – a true national icon – while other well-known brands include Santiago de Cuba, Caribbean Club and Siboney.
So, it comes as no surprise that rum is in the base of the most popular Cuban cocktails. The ones that are now world-famous and very much present on the menu of every cocktail bar. There is, naturally, the basic – the Cuba Libre is simple to make, traditional and immensely drinkable! No need to be in Cuba, you can make this one in no time at home as long as you have some rum and coke about. Just fill a tall glass with ice, add 50ml of white rum, top it up with cola and add a wedge of lime to give it that little bit extra. Simples.
Then there’s the Daiquiri – icy, refreshing and sweet, it makes it so hard to stop after the first one (but do try). The most popular one is the one created at the legendary Havana bar El Floridita by famous cantinero Constante Ribalaigua in 1937.
However, the star of the show is the Mojito. A delicious concoction mixing two of the most important Cuban exports: rum and sugar. The perfect Mojito is not too sweet, neither does it taste too strong, yet it somehow is both. Just like Cuba, it allures with flavours and only later on does it hit you in the head. Getting the Mojito right is something you should definitely strive to do if you want to quickly transport yourself to Havana. At least in spirit if not in person. Grab the best rum you can find and get mixing.
Bring the taste of Cuba to your home with a traditional cocktail – thankfully you only need a bottle of rum and you have the main ingredient sorted! Couldn’t have been easier really. Now, share with us your pics with #loveholidaysofficial: we want to see your skills, show us those Cuban cocktails, and do drink responsibly…