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Moors and Christians
Picadillo a la criolla (Creole ground meat)
Langosta enchilada (Spicy lobster)

When you combine ancient Taino recipes with Spanish and African cuisine, the result is quite unique, and immensely flavourful. That is Cuban gastronomy.
The island’s cuisine reflects the melting pot of cultures that have passed through it. During colonial times, the cooks were African slaves. They introduced spices, tubers (‘ñame’) and fruits like quimbombó (okra). Years later, Chinese immigrants also brought new ingredients, as did the Haitians, whose influence is still apparent today in the names of various dishes.

Among the most popular ingredients are rice, beans and cassava. The first two are used in typical dishes like the so-called Moors and Christians. Made from black beans or congri (a Haitian Word), the dish is a delicious stew with red beans, pork, pork rinds and rice. The eastern congri, of African influence, mixes red beans and rice with seasoning and a little bacon. Cassava was already grown by the natives when the Europeans arrived, along with other root vegetables like sweet potatoes and yams. In restaurants it is served with mojo, a salsa made from oil, garlic, pepper, salt and lemon. Ajiaco is another acclaimed dish, this time made with dried meat and vegetables. It is also called sancocho or caldosa.

Suckling pig is very common and is prepared in various ways, including roasted or fried. Tostones or chatinos (fried green plantains) are a mainstay of many recipes. The result of frying vegetables with meat is the well-known ropa vieja (old clothes), another very traditional delicacy in Havana. A similar recipe is the tasty picadillo a la criolla (Creole mince), which is a mixture of different types of meat with vegetables, fruits, olives and various spices, producing a delicious and filling dish. Lovers of spicy food will enjoy trying rabo encendido, oxtail with a hot pepper salsa. Despite having several kilometres of coastline, seafood does not figure much on Havana menus. Dishes like spicy lobster or heavily seasoned seafood stew are typically only served to tourists.

The country’s quintessential cocktails, exported all over the world, have one common ingredient: rum. The most famous are the mojito, made with rum, lemon, mint leaves, sugar, soda water and ice; daiquiri, with rum, sugar, lemon, maraschino liqueur and ice, and the popular Cuba Libre, a mix of rum with cola, lemon and ice. The Rum Collins is similar to the mojito but without the mint leaves. Less known is the telegram, with rum, mint liqueur and ice.

Non-alcoholic drinks like tropical fruit juices also have a lot of potential in Havana. Coconut water, drunk through a straw straight from the fruit, is a delight every visitor to the island should try.
Another similar option is guarapo juice, made with the juice of fermented sugar cane. And to round off the drinks menu: the official Cuban soft drink is Tropi Cola, an alternative to regular cola, but sweeter.

Beer, the beverage of choice

Beer came to Havana in 1762, when the English took the city. It’s popularity rapidly soared, even among children, spurred by claims of health benefits. In the mid 19th century, Cuba began to produce its own beer, using sugar cane juice instead of barley, but it wasn’t until the turn of the century that La Tropical came into existence. Little by little the recipe was improved and its popularity extended to the rest of the Caribbean islands, even winning international acclaim. Other brands, like Hatuey and Polar, came later. Foreign beers cannot compete in the Cuban market.

Those that drink them...

Visitors to Havana always remark on how they don’t feel the effects of alcohol so much, and attribute it to the weather or the humidity. Nothing is further from the truth. The reason is clear on the labelling of most of the bottles: the alcohol proof is different in Cuba than in the rest of the world. The majority of bottles state the alcohol content and its international equivalent. As the Cubans say, “It’s not the drinks that matter, but those who come to drink.”