Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Where to find the best food in Cuba

Where to find the best food in Cuba
Kate Riesenberg, The Blonde Abroad

In late December 2014 President Obama opened relations with Cuba, over
50 years after the embargo that stopped all US imports and meant that
American citizens could not enter the country was first put in place.
This shift has a lot of meaning, one of which directly affects the
ability for Americans to travel into this previously forbidden city.

In April 2015, via a partnership between Yoga For Bad People and Cuba
Educational Travel, I headed there myself under one of the 12 now
government approved categories.

Under a strict Cuban government approved itinerary, we had a detailed
schedule that needed to be mostly followed each day. Though none of the
people in our group were particularly used to traveling in this fashion,
it was what was mandatory in order to be there as a US citizen, plus it
did grant us undeniably incredible access to the fascinating country of

During our week long stay, we had a huge amount of exposure to the
cultural and historical elements that help make Cuba what it is today.

We were given a tour of the Museum of Cuban Art, guided by a Cuban art
historian. We were the fortunate audience to multiple live music
performances in private venues, led by renowned Cuban singers and
songwriters. We were taken to the Nostalgic Cars garage, and spoken to
about what it takes to repair classic cars by the owners themselves (and
then given a surprise by being driven around in them!).

We ventured three hours outside of the city of Havana to Pinar del Rio
and were welcomed into the home of local farmer and tobacco connoisseur
Benito for a lesson in cigars and coffee. We visited La Finca Vigia,
former home of Hemingway. And of course we did yoga, though in this
instance it did fall secondary to the intense days exploring Havana and

My adventures in Cuba did involve food as well, though the experience
here was different than most. Up until the early nineties paladares,
privately owned restaurants, existed only illegally, and were somewhat
limited in number.

Nowadays paladares are more plentiful, but the resources able to go into
these are still limited as Cuba of course is a socialist country. Meats
are bought on the "black market" (which here only means bought outside
of government regulation) and spices are brought in by relatives or
friends of the owners who are fortunate enough to go abroad at all.

In my opinion, the venues themselves were more impressive in most cases
than the food, which is not overly surprising given the circumstances.
The spaces were interesting though, and eclectic, artistic and
impressive. They were creative and colorful, and as full of life as the
rest of Cuba was.

The most traditional dish you can find throughout the city is ropa
vieja, which translated means "old clothes." Stewed beef and vegetables
are the main ingredients. Beyond this comes a lot of lobster (this was
a bit hit or miss), fish, yuca, tamales and no shortage of rice and
black beans.

The Spanish influence is prevalent in most dishes, as a direct result of
the colonization of Cuba by this country years ago. Mojitos tend to be
the drink of choice!

Here are my personal food highlights, and where to find the best food in

El Cocinero

El Cocinero is the undertaking of rock, hip-hop, Afro-Cuban fusion
musician X-Alfonso and is set up within an old cooking oil factory in
the Vedado neighborhood of Havana. There is a dining room on the ground
floor and a large, outdoor patio on the roof with more tables for
dining, a bar and impressive city views.

Next door is the Cuban Art Factory (La Fabrica de Arte Cubano) which had
the most NYC like vibe out of anywhere we went. Comprised of dozens of
rooms, this space is a state supported project for blossoming young
artists. There are installations, paintings, poetry, dance and movie
screenings at any given time.

Dona Eutimia

Located right in the center of Old Havana amidst the plazas and the
modest art galleries that line the cobble-stoned streets, Dona Eutimia
is a recent addition paladar wise, but it's history dates back to the
1970s when young artists used to gather near here to do their work.

Drop by for lunch and you'll feel like you dipped into a local's casual
dining room!

La Guarida

La Guarida stood out to me the most out of all visited venues. To get
here you'll go into what feels like an old, abandoned home, climbing
dozens of large, marble stairs until it opens up to a bustling old
Hollywood feeling restaurant on the very top floor.

The walls are adorned with photos of famous past visitors, like Jack
Nicholson, Oliver Stone and Steven Spielberg. Jazz music fills the air
and light curtains wave as a light breeze passes. The food is okay; not
great, but overall La Guardia makes for a really good night out.

Hotel Nacional

Brought to international fame by none other than Anthony Bourdain, Hotel
Nacional is absolutely worth seeing. Located nearby the equally famous
Malecon strip, the combination of the hotel and it's location is a real
jolt into the Cuba many imagine.

Hotel Nacional has a breezy, tropical yet refined feel, with an air
about it that gives off the notion that important things are happening.
Dine outside under the canopies and enjoy and appreciate the fact that
you are doing what many have not.

Finca Paraiso Agroecologico

Located between the Vinales region and the city of Havana, Finca Paraiso
Agroecologica was the exact reprieve we were all looking for. The
restaurant is perched on the hill of a farm, where they churn out
organic food and captivating views.

This was by far the biggest variety of food we encountered, with
everything from tasty anti-stress green juice to grilled okra and
carrots, dozens of salads, homemade soups and marinated meats and fish.

San Cristobal

If it's good enough for Jay-Z and Beyonce, it's good enough for me,
right? San Cristobal offers an incredibly interesting and eclectic
interior, full of old books piled high on chairs, elephant statues
scattered around, clocks, religious artifacts, palm trees and old photos
lining the walls.

There is a huge central dining table in the middle of the restaurant,
and smaller tables in offshoot rooms off of that. After you dine make
sure to grab a local cigar, too.

Hi there! I'm Kate Riesenberg from We Travel We Eat and I have partnered
with The Blonde Abroad to bring you the best places to eat as I explore
cities around the world through food.

Source: Where to find the best food in Cuba - Business Insider -

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