The Full Flavor Of Cuba
The Full Flavor Of Cuba
The full flavor of Cuba is due to the combination of the Spanish, French, African, Arabic, Chinese, and Portuguese cultures. Cuba’s foods reflect its history: Spanish settlers, Caribbean neighbors, African slaves, and Native American and other influences—including Chinese! Indentured servitude in the mid-1800s brought Chinese and Indian citizens to Havana’s harbor.
As a port city, Havana saw Spanish spices and other exotic ingredients. The rise of apiaries in the late 1700s gave Cuba organized honey harvesting
Most of the dishes are sautéed or slow-cooked over a low flame. Cuban cooking relies on a few basic spices, such as garlic, cumin, oregano, and bay laurel leaves. Many dishes use a sofrito as their basis.
Sofrito consists of onion, green pepper, garlic, oregano, and ground pepper quick-fried in olive oil. The sofritois what gives certain foods their distinctive flavor. It is used when cooking black beans, stews, various meat dishes, and tomato-based sauces. Meats and poultry are usually marinated in citrus juices, such as lime or sour orange juices, and then roasted over low heat until the meat is tender and falling off the bone.
Another common staple to the Cuban diet are root vegetables such as yuca, malanga, and boniato, which are found in most Latin markets. These vegetables are flavored with a marinade, called mojo, which includes hot olive oil, lemon juice, sliced raw onions, garlic, cumin, and a little water.
Fufú is a simple dish made with boiled green bananas mashed into a paste. With strong West African roots, versions of this dish are eaten in other Caribbean nations.
Pork, salads, and rice-and-bean dishes can be seen on dinner plates throughout the country.
Arroz con pollo, or chicken with rice, moros y cristianos (rice and black beans) and ropa vieja, translated as “old clothes,” a long-cooked falling-off-the-bone meat meal) represent typical main dishes.
Cuban cooks use local seafood and vegetables, including plantains, and sometimes sweet fruit for dessert, or citrus for cooking. Local ingredients include the mamey fruit, malanga root–often made into fritters–and several species of fish. Beef, pork, and chicken are staples. The island has few vegetarians.
A Typical Cuban breakfast might include tostada, toasted buttered bread similar to American toast. Tostadas sometimes are flattened, the better to dunk into Cuba’s strong coffee. Café con leche—a kind of espresso and milk—is popular at breakfast time. Cuban bread typically is baked with lard instead of oil.
Café con leche recipe
- Put the sugar in a large glass measuring cup and add 1 tablespoon of the hot espresso.
- Using a small whisk, beat the sugar with the espresso until pale and thick and nearly dissolved, about 1 minute.
- Stir in the remaining hot espresso.
- Let the foam rise to the top, then pour into espresso cups and serve immediately.
Although times are changing, Cuba still employs a rationing system, allotting grocery and household items according to the numbers, ages, and physical conditions of people in each household.
At home, island meals have no courses, with the exception of dessert. All components are brought to the table together.
Cuban sandwiches, often called mixtos or cubanos date back to the late 1800s or early 1900s. No one can be certain, but the pressed bread, ham or roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickle and mustard treats might have been invented for factory worker lunch pails.
No one is sure of their place of origin, either. Travel between Cuba and Tampa, Florida, was common and comparatively easy in those days.
The medianoche (midnight) sandwich is like the cubano, but on softer bread.
Cuban salads tend toward simplicity but are always attractively presented.
The sights and sounds of Cuba can be intoxicating. But you can’t fully appreciate the island without savoring its many flavors.
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