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May 20, 2007 12:44 PM

Hoping to eat better in Cuba

I will be back in Cuba soon, mainly in the Hemingway marina- Vedado area of Havana. I struggle to eat well there. No fish because no boats. I bring a pepper shaker because, yeah, no pepper. The list of nots is long. (Please don't bash me for having lofty expectations; I am well aware of the pain on that beautiful island).
The government hotel restaurants are depressingly predictable,and paladares kind of come and go; but some are diamonds in the rough. Anyone have any good experiences this year?

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  1. Veggo, do you have family there? Are you eating in private homes, paladars or restaurants? I have never been to Cuba but hope to one day. The Cuban economy has hit rock bottom. I'm sure anything you can bring would be appreciated. Have a good trip.

    If interested: They have just removed the old 23 limit and have gone back to 50 loose cigars you can export without receipt

    1 Reply
    1. re: scubadoo97

      No relatives. I'm danish, I just love everything hispanic. You are right on about the Cuban economy, and consequently the average diet. Most enjoy a meat meal, -chicken or pork- only a couple times a month. Black beans, rice, and plantains are the daily fare. A military pension is $7/month. Most of the paladares are either in homes, or in adjacent structures for that purpose. Some are shut down capriciously and without explanation; nobody knows why. Or they're not comfortable saying. Lobsters, surprisingly, are available in some of the hotel restos because fishermen can freedive for them from shore. One of few "fishing boats" I have seen there was a contraption that resembled a bathtub, made from glued laminates of styrofoam. The two men aboard were beaming with joy as they showed off the barracuda they had caught. No idea where they got the styrofoam. Cigars? I travel there to and from Mexico, with Mexican documents, and the restriction is on the import side- one box. Yes, Mexico protects its producers, too, but I hardly think an esplendito is any threat to the Te Amo line. I don't bring much, I just bring back their letters to mail to relatives stateside.
      P.S. If you want a cuba libre there, just order a "haha". The notion of Cuba being "libre"- free- is such a joke there that the beverage has that nickname.

    2. You won't eat poorly there... when I was there a few years ago I liked the meals I ate, but there just isn't too much variation or spice. Bring bars of nice chocolate to give to people, that's like gold there and the recipients will love you for it. (toothbrushes too)
      Oh, and if you will cook any of your own food then bring your own spices... to this day tarragon reminds me of Cuba because I brought a bunch of it to make lobster salad at my friends wedding there. It was unbelievable the way all the Cubans scarffed that stuff down, it was such an exotic and new taste to them.
      In eating out, I remember enjoying most the coffee, eggs, chicken dishes, pork dishes, and some fish too... all washed down with rum. One thing I loved there was the Cuban-style pizza, but I couldn't tell you where the place was, somewhere outside of Havanna.

      1. You should try La Esperanza in Miramar. Excellent paladar in a beautiful home and lovely hosts. My favorite place to eat in La Habana by far. There is another Mexican (yes, Mexican!) paladar in Miramar that is good, but I can't recall the name. Other paladares I like are: El Helecho (simple, inexpensive paladar), el Gringo Viejo (not amazing, but decent and also not too expensive), and I do like La Guarida (the place from Fresa y Chocolate). The pizza place on the corner of Parque Central isn't bad, if you really need pizza during your trip. I have always eaten quite well in Cuba.

        2 Replies
        1. re: m de p

          Thanks, m de p. Seems like La Esperanza made the strongest impression on you. Did you have a distinctively good meal there, or can you recall some of the more interesting selections? Thanks. Have you tried Floridita?

          1. re: Veggo

            I never made it to Floridita.

            Esperanza's menu changes each time, but there are some standard things. They have an interesting appetizer of a plantain stuffed with tuna. Very good. I've had good soups there and the fish dishes are also good. Please go if you can and enjoy! Just being in the house is such a nice experience, but the food luckily stands up to the surroundings.