In the past few months I have gotten hooked on Cuban food, so I figured that I would share some popular dishes. My friend, who is also a Spanish teacher, and I used to try to make it to a local Cuban restaurant that we loved each month. Then, a new Cuban restaurant opened up nearby and that became our “spot.” Then, we took a trip to La Habana (Havana) last week, so we were in Cuban food heaven!
First of all, it is important to note that Cuban food (along with Puerto Rican and Dominican) is quite a bit different than other Latin food, although they do share many of the same ingredients. Below I will talk about some of the common ingredients and dishes. What I love so much about Cuban cuisine is that it is very flavorful, it is clearly prepared with love, and it utilizes fresh ingredients.
-Pork: Pork, especially roasted pork (puerco/lechón asado) is a very popular protein in Cuban cuisine. Many times it is marinaded in mojo criollo (sour orange juice, garlic, salt, olive oil, oregano, cumin, and black pepper).
-Beef: A very common dish to find on the menu of a Cuban restaurant is ropa vieja. Ropa vieja actually means dirty clothes in English, but it is delicious! It is shredded beef cooked with bell peppers, onions, and other flavorful spices and vegetables.
-Chicken: Chicken, just like in any other cuisine, can be cooked in a variety of ways: grilled, roasted, fried, or my favorite, as a fricasé de pollo, which is chicken that is marinated and then stewed in a flavorful, tomato-based sauce.
-Fish/Shrimp: As with chicken, fish and shrimp is often served grilled, roasted, or fried.
-Rice: There are many different preparations of rice used in Cuban cuisine. You will often find white or yellow rice on the menu. Another popular preparation is called arroz congrí (also called moros y cristianos), which is white riced cooked along with black beans.
-Beans: Black beans are definitely the most common beans that are used in Cuban cuisine, but you can often find red beans on the menu of Cuban restaurants as well.
-Plantains: If you go to a Cuban restaurant, you will generally see plantains prepared in two different ways. Tostones are plantains that are not very ripe that are sliced, fried, smashed, and then fried again. Plantains that are not ripe have more of a starchy taste. Maduros are ripe plantains that are fried. Because they are very ripe, maduros have a softer texture with a very sweet flavor.
-Yucca: Yucca is the root of the Cassava plant and has a similar texture as a potato. It is often boiled and served with mojo sauce on top.
-Flan: This is a decadent custard dessert with a layer of caramel sauce on top.
-Arroz con leche: This sweet rice pudding is seasoned with cinnamon.
-Pastries/Cookies: There are all sorts of traditional Cuban pastries: pastelitos de guayaba (guava pastries), brazo de gitano, torticas de moron, etc.
I would be remised if I did not mention coffee. Coffee is not only an important part of the Cuban breakfast, but is also often drank after a meal. Cuban coffee is often made in a cafetera like pictured below. The bottom part of the cafetera gets filled with water and the ground coffee (espresso roast) goes into the a basket that goes on top of the water chamber. Then you screw on the top part, put the cafetera on the stove, and the coffee comes up to the top part.
-Café cubano: This is usually sweetened with sugar and is drank just like a shot of espresso.
-Café con leche: This is coffee with steamed milk. Did you know that you can actually froth milk in a French press?! I learned that trick from my trip to Cuba last week!
-Cortadito: A cortadito is essentially like a café con leche, but in a smaller size.