Cuba is not known for its cuisine. I was warned before travelling that although I would fall in love with the country, I should not have high expectations for its food. Its communist roots make it difficult for a wide variety of food to be imported, and consequently, there is not much diversity. So, my expectations were quite low.
I was pleasantly surprised! There definitely isn’t much diversity in terms of different types of cuisine, but the food that was available was certainly one of the best I’ve had! Maybe it was because it exceeded expectations, but we also picked quite good restaurants.
For breakfast, we had a very tasty, wonderful, and filling three-course meal made by our Air
For dinner, we usually went to tourist restaurants. Whenever I visit a country, I always make it a priority to dine like a local and avoid all the Western, tourist-filled restaurants. I have a very wide palette and love trying everything. But given the food situation in Cuba, if you wanted to have a wider and probably healthier option, going to the newer and tourist-focused restaurants was probably your best option.
One of our favourites- where we dined three times- was a restaurant just next to the Cathedral called R. Orozco. The meals usually consisted of plantain chips, salad, rice, and beans- all traditional Latin American staples. And the main course usually consisted of meat. There was a lot of seafood to choose from (which I loved), and I mostly opted for the lobster! Meals at these kinds of restaurants were usually around 10-14 CUC (£7.6- £10.5 at the time of writing), but you could definitely find the same sort of meals for half of that. The salads were usually nice and fresh, the rice well-cooked, and the seafood tasty. You would usually receive a free cocktail too! In terms of value and taste, meals in Cuba were actually really good. What’s even better about these restaurants is the unbeatable atmosphere- you can usually find a talented band playing Cuban music.
Of course, not all tourist restaurants are like that. We actually went to two Western restaurants which we did not particularly like. They were okay, but the food was quite over-priced for something that wasn’t as tasty or traditional. So, if you are looking for the nice restaurants, I recommend considering ones that have promotors standing outside, persuading you to eat at their restaurant. Usually, I am dissuaded by restaurants that need to persuade people to come in. But we actually found R. Orozco that way. I decided (out of mere curiosity) to look at the menu for Orozco and was enticed by the amazing value on the menu (and also the free wifi which is quite rare)! Definitely look at the menus before deciding to eat at a restaurant. I think that there is a difference between the lovely restaurants along the street, where you can dine outside, and the fancier ones you usually find inside.
Snacks & Dessert
I found that snacking, or buying snacks was a bit more difficult. Whenever we wanted to snack in between breakfast and dinner, we would usually go for a dessert. Desserts in Cuba- when you are lucky to find one- are so so good! You can usually find a few stalls and small shops that sell some sweet snacks, like ice-cream. But I had the best churros I ever had there. They were the thick ones that can be filled, and I got mine with condensed milk. I also tried my very first Tres Leches cake. A lovely, rich butter cake soaked in three kinds of milk: condensed, evaporated milk, and heavy cream. As a person with a big sweet tooth, I really rated the dessert in Cuba.
Now, I really speak for myself when I say Cuban food is actually amazing. As I mentioned, I have a really wide palette and am very open to trying everything. Others might not agree. But that said, one of my good friends I came with is a vegetarian and also was pleasantly surprised with the food. Although the options were definitely not as good, there were definitely decent at some restaurants where some even had a vegetarian menu. If you can’t find something on the menu, I am sure that if you ask the people at the restaurant, they will be more than happy to help.
So, despite its reputation, the food in Cuba has definitely exceeded my expectations. I am sure that the options are always growing. Definitely go there with an open mind but I hope you’ll find it surprisingly nice!
If you want to see a bit more of my Cuban holiday, check out my Cuba 2018 GoPro video here.