After the monumental success of my blog on Cuban Toilets, I thought I would provide the cyberworld with more information about day to day life in Cuba. I have spoken about food a bit but here I shall collate all the information I gathered after months of in depth research!
When somebody asks me how the food was in Cuba, I usually shudder and pretend to wretch. This is purely because at home we suffered from having a cook who couldn't cook. An unfortunate circumstance. In addition, anyone who's walked around the streets of Havana will concur that they are dotted with very poor quality fast food joints that sell pizzas, hamburgers and hot dogs that are almost unrecognisable, they are so awful. Cheese and processed meat are not strong points. I would advise you to avoid them.
I have just looked up some of the restaurants we used to love when in Cuba on Trip Advisor, and discovered that Starbien, the restaurant owned by my landlord is #6 in Havana. I think this is more than fair, the food there was amazing, especially by Cuban standards, and compared to prices in the UK it was very cheap. Very often, walking into a restaurant in Cuba is like walking into the 1970s. They simply LOVE prawn cocktails there! But Starbien is very modern and classy.
What I find completely incomprehensible is how my landlords were able to run such a successful restaurant, but were more than happy to leave us with some of the strangest, oddest, most unappealing dishes known to man. I don't make claims without evidence! Here is a photo of one of our delightful meals, served - as usual - in a dish that looked like a dog bowl.
Hard, mysterious meat; fried, destroyed, dry and tasteless. Our meals were served with rice and a salad made of tomato slices, green beans and beetroot slices. Sometimes we got carrot(!!!!!) Remember, if you ever judge me for complaining about little things, this wasn't for a day or a week. It was five months! I love tomato salad, but nobody loves anything every day for five months!!
Obviously Cuba suffers from shortages, and food that can't be easily grown or produced in Cuba is hard to find, expensive and often quite bad. However, Cuban food can actually be very delicious, and other students had a much more positive experience than us. The huge amount of fried food we were given really affected our moods AND OUR BOWELS!!! So don't get down in the dumps, and remember that there is good food out there, you just need to go out and buy it!
One of the great things about Cuba is that food is very often made fresh on the premises with fresh ingredients. The climate provides lots of strange new vegetables and really delicious fruit. Seafood is abundant and 'fine dining' is a lot cheaper than anywhere else I've been. When you're in a new place, it can be hard to work out where will be good to eat. These are my tips!
If you want something cheap and quick for lunch, go where Cubans go, and eat at a moneda nacional cafe. I've listed a few below. As a rule of thumb, these cafes are either holes in the wall, and people eat and drink standing up nearby, or they'll be in peoples porches and front gardens. The best places will have a lot of choice, and serve fruit shakes (batidos) too. I always went for an omlette or tuna sandwich, with onion and tomato if it was possible. Omlettes are made freshly and were much tastier than cheese, as cheese can be of varying quality, whereas eggs are pretty standard. If somewhere only sells cheese and ham sandwiches and cheap beer, I'd look somewhere else!
You know you've found a good moneda nacional restaurant if it is decorated nicely with plants and hanging baskets. Make sure you ask for the moneda nacional prices! Pick a nice comida, such as fried pork, chicken or fish with 'moros y cristianos' and salad. Moros y cristianos is rice with black beans. It literally means 'moors and Christians'...it tastes SO GOOD if the cook knows what they'redoing! The fish is usually great, and served with a wedge of lime. Squeeze it on the rice! Mmmmmmmm.
As long as you don't end up with our luck, and a cook like Ana, the best food can be found in Casa Paticulares. If they offer dinner, accept at least for one night, the prices are good compared to CUC (tourist currency) restaruants. If you are in Vinales and Baracoa, DEFINITELY eat in the Casa. It may well be the best meal of your trip :)
Here are some of the places we liked, it's fun to find your own favourites too. In the words of my good friend Rachel, who gave me many tips in my preparations for Cuba: "Enjoy your rice and beans."
Places to eat in Vedado/Havana
Lunch time: Calle A entre 29 y Zapata (Street A between 29 and Zapata)
Calle D entre 23 y 25 (Street D between 23 and 25)
Al frio y fuego: Calle 25 entre D y E (or there abouts!)
Waoo! burgers, brownies and cockatils are great:
Chanchulleros. Best value dinner (and really delicious), prawns and meat dishes, and best value cocktails in Old Havana
Places to eat outside of Havana
Fernan-2 in Vinales does a great meal deal and is very beautiful, we loved it and my sister said it was the best meal of the trip!
El Barracon, Santiago de Cuba was really good and a good price too!