As a follow up to my redemptive article on traditional Cuban cuisine, I would like to now give you some suggestions on dishes to try while you’re there visiting. None of these are spicy. Remember Cubans prefer flavourful food, as opposed to hot food. When you’re in a Casa Particular, ask the family to cook any of these and you’ll be delighted.
Clasification guide: V = vegetarian, M = meat, VV = vegan
1. Congrí (VV or M)): this rice dish exists in other cultures from around the Caribbean area but with some variation. A good Cuban congrí, consists of white rice cooked in black bean water with beans added in, incorporating spices like garlic, onion, bell peppers, cumin, green onions and cilantro. The rice turns black in the cooking process, acquiring a distinctive colour and fragrance. This dish is best accompanied with red meats and fried plantains.
2. Fricasé (M): a fricasé is simply meat from chicken, pork, lamb, or goat cooked in a sauce. The idea is to create a sauce very rich in flavour and thick enough to be poured onto the accompanying rice, without watering down like a soup. Fricasé requires good cooking technique and marinating the meat since the day before. It’s the most common way of cooking meats in Cuba. The ingredients usually involved are lemons, cooking wine, garlic, cumin, allspice, tomato sauce, red or green peppers, onions, etc.
3. Potaje de Frijoles (VV or M): this is a serious bean soup. A potaje can be made out of any of the different types of beans that you can find in Cuba: black, kidney, white, pinto, lentils, peas, garbanzo, black-eyed peas, etc. It’s a very nutritious meal that combined with rice makes for an excellent staple, highly recommended for those who are vegan or vegetarian. The spices used to season it vary depending on the type of bean used. Same as in the case of congrí, you can choose to add meat on this dish, or not.
4. Puerco Asado, or Macho Asado (M): a signature dish, especially around Xmas and New Years celebrations, but available at all times of the year. While in Cuba, if you’re a meat lover, don’t pass on this chance to try organically grown pork meat. When someone is roasting pork, the entire neighbourhood knows it because the aroma engulfs the entire block.
5. Yuca con Mojo (VV): I haven’t met a single person who doesn’t love this dish. Yuca con mojo is simply boiled cassava (yuca) dressed with mojo. The magic is in the mojo, which we create by sautéing garlic with abundant lime in it. Cassava has other yummy applications, one of which I’ll explain below.
6. Buñuelos (V): I can’t even type these words properly, moved by the emotion of remembering the taste of buñuelos, also known as "Frituras de Malanga". Ok, that was a little bit dramatic, but dramatic perfectly serves as the word to describe the effect of buñuelos on the palate! Buñuelos are simply fritters made by mixing a larger part of grated small taro roots and a smaller part of grated cassava, with eggs, chives and salt, then deep fried. I could eat hundreds of these, any day and any time.
7. Tamales Cubanos (V, VV, or M): I have added the word “cubanos” because visiting other Latin American countries I’ve noticed there are many, many ways of preparing tamales. The Cuban tamal is made from fresh corn grains (not from corn flour!). The grains are grinded and the resulting paste is mixed with spices and milk or meat, depending on how you want it to taste; then wrapped in corn leaves and boiled. Tamales are a truly delicious and natural food source. The only down side is that corn is a seasonal crop in Cuba.
Other popular traditional dishes are ropa vieja, tostones, caldosa, plátanos fritos, arroz con pollo, avocado salad, quimbombó o berenjena con carne, vianda hervida, etc. Our desserts also feature a variety of unique items, my favourite being flan de calabaza (squash flan).
As I mentioned in my other blog on Cuban food, nowadays some of these dishes are inaccessible to the ordinary Cuban, due to the dire socio-economic situation the country is going through, and for which the current government is mostly responsible.
At my monthly event One Night in Cuba, you’ll be able to try some of these dishes. Get your tickets for the next one!