Cuban food? Imagine if the USSR were in the tropics. It's tasty -- if you like pork. Pork is king. Beef, chicken, rice, and beans are also available. Even though the island is surrounded by the Caribbean, seafood is nothing to seek out. Rum drinks are cheap and plentiful, but don't expect much in the way of fruits and vegetables. A trip to the supermarket shows long shelves in the meat department empty except for a handful of uniform sausages at one end.
Restaurant menus that list far more than what's actually available reflect a supply challenge caused by a command economy resisting the laws of supply and demand. Many Cubans suffer from hypertension and diabetes, which local doctors attribute to too much fat -- and, locals (who generally seem comfortable complaining about the system, if not about Fidel) add, "the stress of dealing with a frustrating bureaucracy." Tourists carefully avoid local water. Bottled water is cheap and everywhere.
While the government is slowly opening up opportunities for private and creative restaurants catering to people with enough money to be foodies, they have a long way to go. Privately run paladares promise to raise Cuban cuisine above government-run canteens. But with the ongoing embargo, ingredients are limited, and even the finest chef would be hard-pressed to dazzle any eater. Dining in fine restaurants left me feeling well-fed...but not pampered.
I found the fancy tourist restaurants served food no better than places that were more basic (but still tourist-friendly). The worst two meals of the trip were our two most expensive and most touristy.
Photo: The Travelphile
While in Cuba, a very simple, yet appetizing lunch was a success. Toasted ham and cheese on good bread...gracias.