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Food is a Topic of Great Concern to Most Cubans living in Cuba

Food is a Topic of Great Concern to Most Cubans living in Cuba

CUBA, DESTINATIONS

While I usually write about luxury travel and fine dining, I invited my cousin who lived in Placetas, a small town in Cuba, to talk about the restaurants in her town.

Food is a topic of great concern to most Cubans living in Cuba. It is difficult to find products in the markets and when you do, they have very high prices. That’s why my mother and I filled two suitcases in our luggage with food as well as toiletries that are scarce or very expensive in Cuba.

Every Sunday there is a fair where the farmers sell part of their crops that are allowed by the State. The fair is truly an event and the whole town bikes over to obtain food they can afford.

 

People comparing prices at the fair in Placetas Cuba before buying
People comparing prices at the fair in Placetas Cuba before buying
A farmer selling products at the Placetas fair: black and red beans, tomatoes, corn cobs
A farmer selling products at the Placetas fair: black and red beans, tomatoes, corn cobs
The avocado makes for a very refreshing summer salad in Cuba. This one cost 15 Cuban pesos ($ 0.60
The avocado makes for a very refreshing summer salad in Cuba. This one cost 15 Cuban pesos ($ 0.60)

 

As I said, public restaurants have little to offer, so the private restaurants now that they are allowed  are thriving. But restaurants are expensive: Cuban workers can’t afford to go to a “paladar”  (restaurant of the private sector) because they earn little money and these restaurants are very expensive for them. The average price per person is 90 Cuban pesos, about $ 4, but for a Cuban this is a big amount.

 

A Cuban Store
A Cuban Store
Food stores that belong to the State. Here, the products are purchased with the local currency, the Cuban peso
Food stores that belong to the State. Here, the products are purchased with the local currency, the Cuban peso
This store belongs to the state, but accepts convertible currency (CUC)
This store belongs to the state, but accepts convertible currency (CUC)

 

Even having the money isn’t as easy as it sounds. As resources are limited, often so is the menu. One evening we decided to go to dinner to one of the restaurants in the village. We started by “La Meson Restaurant” on the recommendation of a friend. When we approached, one of the cooks intersected us in the middle of the street and said they only had lobster and shrimp on the menu, which we don’t like. The next stop was a bit far and we decided to go by horse-drawn carriage which is a very common mode of transportation in Cuba. To our dismay, “El Ranchón Vista Hermosa Restaurant” was closed.

Without many other options, we placed our hope in the “1900’s Restaurant”. At first glance, it appeared to be closed, but it wasn’t luckily. There were more dishes to choose from than I expected and the food had the characteristic taste of Cuban cuisine. The cost of the dinner exceeded the total amount of money earned in one month by a Cuban teacher.

 

1990's Restaurant" in Placetas. The walls are decorated with some paintings by local artists
“1990’s Restaurant” in Placetas. The walls are decorated with some paintings by local artists
My aunt choosing her food from the menu at "1900's Restaurant"
My aunt choosing her food from the menu at “1900’s Restaurant”

 

Salad plate at 1900's Restaurant in Placetas Cuba
Salad plate at 1900’s Restaurant in Placetas Cuba
My aunts dinner at 1900's Restaurant in Placetas Cuba
My aunts dinner at 1900’s Restaurant in Placetas Cuba
Dinner plate of pork at 1900's Restaurant in Placetas Cuba
Dinner plate of pork legs at 1900’s Restaurant in Placetas Cuba
Dinner plate of chicken at 1900's Restaurant in Placetas Cuba
Dinner plate of chicken at 1900’s Restaurant in Placetas Cuba

 

A few days later, I returned to “La Meson” and discovered the best spaghetti in the town, a mountain of pasta with vegetables, tomato sauce, bacon, ham and Cuban white cheese. I struggled to eat all that food, only a few were able to finish. It was a kind of challenge in which we all competed!

 

La Meson a traditional Cuban restaurant in Placetas Cuba
La Meson a traditional Cuban restaurant in Placetas Cuba
Spaghetti dish at La Meson in Placetas
Spaghetti dish at La Meson in Placetas

 

I also ended up testing dishes in “El Ranchón”. It only opens on weekends, and on Sundays, there is a group that plays good music in the restaurant. Delicious croquettes with tomato sauce are ideal as a starter. The best dishes are the breaded snapper fillet, pork chops, masas fritas (fried pork pieces) and fried chicken. They all come with garrison Cuban “moro” rice and mixed salad. Many people prefer lobster or shrimp cocktails and say they are very good, but that’s something I don’t like so I cannot comment! My favorite desserts were flan, rice pudding and custard with cinnamon.

 

 

Entrance to El Ranchón in Placetas Cuba
Entrance to El Ranchón in Placetas Cuba
Delicious croquettes with tomato sauce at El Ranchon Restaurant
Delicious croquettes with tomato sauce at El Ranchon Restaurant
Chicken with congri at El Ranchon Restaurant in Placetas
Chicken with Cuban rice and black beans at El Ranchon Restaurant in Placetas
Fried Fish with Cuban rice and black beans at El Ranchon
Fried Fish with Cuban rice and black beans at El Ranchon
Live Music at El Ranchon Restaurant in Placetas
Live Music at El Ranchon Restaurant in Placetas

 

The cafes have become a novelty in Placetas. They call them cafes but coffee is never the strong point. There are various types of sandwiches, pizzas and ice cream on the menu, but often many of those items are simply not available.

 

Menu for Cafeteria Chaplin
Menu for Cafeteria Chaplin
Cafeteria Chaplin is a little restaurant in someones living room
Cafeteria Chaplin is a little restaurant in someones living room
Cafeteria Chaplin Expresso Coffee in Placetas
Cafeteria Chaplin Expresso Coffee in Placetas

 

Things are changing in Cuba.  About five years ago, the laws changed so that private restaurants could hire employees and the private restaurants started to emerge.  These restaurants are too expensive for Cubans who live off the traditional monthly salary of $20 but the increasing number of small businesses are putting more earnings into the hands of Cubans so they are beginning to taste restaurant food for the first time in a generation. And they taste pretty good.

About the author

Alexandra Hernandez is a young and passionate writer from Cuba who now lives in Madrid, Spain where she studies journalism, mass media and film. She loves traveling and writing about her experiences on Carmen's Luxury Travel as well as other blogs and web pages such as Vocabulary Spelling City.

13 Comments

  1. Arianna
    November 9, 2015 at 3:36 pm
    Reply

    I LOVED your post. Really. I love reading about local food and local food traditions, and what you wrote is incredible: thank you. And thank you so much for sharing all these pictures and showing us how people eat in Cuba (and GOSHHH!! The avocado… incredible)

    Once again, thank you!

    https://pandaonavespa.wordpress.com/

    • Carmen
      November 9, 2015 at 5:05 pm

      Hi Arianna, I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Certain foods are very hard to come by in Cuba. The people do what they can with the food they can get at either the local farmers market or at the stores.

  2. Suze - Luxury Columnist
    November 10, 2015 at 12:54 pm
    Reply

    I hope that things do become easier for Cubans on a day to day basis. It’s a shame that they can’t afford to go to the restaurants at the moment

    Suze | LuxuryColumnist

    • Carmen
      November 13, 2015 at 8:57 am

      Hi Suze, It’s a treat when I go to Cuba and invite my family out for dinner. Most can’t afford to dine out with what they make on a monthly salary. Cuban do whatever they can to make extra money, and a lot of these restaurants are located in individuals that have been converted into small restaurants. I like them because you get some home cooking meals.

  3. Elaine J. Masters
    November 13, 2015 at 6:09 pm
    Reply

    A great post offering a window into the food situation for locals and for visitors. Even though Europeans and Canadians have been visiting for years, I’m still surprised by the lack of infrastructure and hope that with tourism opening to the U.S. the Cuban government will do better by its people. #theweeklypostcard

    • Carmen
      November 18, 2015 at 1:47 am

      The majority of Canadians and European travelers that go to Cuba stay in all inclusive resorts in the keys. These have all the amenities, and food isn’t lacking because they want to make sure that the tourist come back. I invited my family last year to visit one of these resorts for the weekend. My cousins eat more meat and desserts in their three day stay then they would of in months.

  4. Anda
    November 13, 2015 at 11:42 pm
    Reply

    Thank you for this great post. I love reading about local food and local food traditions, but it’s so sad to know that Cubans have difficulty finding food. I come from a communist country where food was a big problem so I can understand better than anybody what a problem that is. I’m planning to visit Cuba one of these days.

    • Carmen
      November 18, 2015 at 2:13 am

      Because of the embargo they rely on local grown food mostly. I would love to see a supermarket like ours in the states in Cuba. Where people can go and buy whatever they want to eat.

  5. Ruth - Tanama Tales
    November 14, 2015 at 12:03 pm
    Reply

    I liked this post a lot. Gives great insight into Cuba’s cuisine. In my opinion, the one of the few ways to try real and good Cuban food is to eat with a family or being invited to a party. Do you had troubles entering the food and toiletries to the country?

    • Carmen
      November 18, 2015 at 2:24 am

      I love being around my family in Cuba, that’s one of the reasons I’m heading to Cuba to celebrate my 50th in a month. Most of the food I bring in are spices, corn starch, jello, cereals. I haven’t had any problems yet bringing these items or toiletries into the country.

  6. Lisa Wood
    November 14, 2015 at 8:23 pm
    Reply

    its so hard to imagine that the food prices for restaurants are so expensive for the locals living in Cuba!
    We complain about the prices of food here in Australia – but we have higher wages I guess.
    It sure looks very yummy, and their servings are huge!
    Cuba sounds like a wonderful place to explore.

    • Carmen
      November 18, 2015 at 2:27 am

      Most Cubans make on average $20 a month and are given monthly rations of food. They have to scramble to make extra money in order to afford buying extra food. For us going to a restaurant and spending $20 isn’t a lot of money, but for the locals it’s a month worth of salary.

  7. Linda Bibb
    November 18, 2015 at 3:30 am
    Reply

    Thanks for sharing your fascinating insights on #TheWeeklyPostcard. Cuba fascinates me. I must be one of the exceptions because I’d much prefer to experience the rest of Cuba and leave the resorts to others. Actually, there is one thing that holds me back from visiting. My biggest concern is the food; I must avoid wheat, pork and seafood (except for fish), and because rice is often cooked with pork I’m guessing it would be hard to find much available to eat, outside of the resort environment. But I really, REALLY want to visit Cuba. Do you think I could manage without starving?

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