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Food in Cuba, Part One: Oh, Those Tourist Traps: Hotels and Restaurants

3 Feb

There are so many things that make Cuba Cuba. Our website, farmcuba.org, only highlighted a fraction of the amazing things we saw. Although the website spotlighted the farm we visited, we experienced many other scenes just as vivid as what you see there.

So much of our project was about food, which is the end product of the majority of what was produced on the farm. Being tourists, we got to experience the best of what Cuba has to offer. This is the first of two posts on the food we ate in Cuba, this one focusing on the touristy, hotel meals we had. After the jump are some of the things I (or we) ate.

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5 Things I Have Learned From My Cuba Trip

14 Jan
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Anthony Bourdain’s Cuba vs Our Cuba

13 Jan

Although I watched Anthony Bourdain’s Cuba episode of “No Reservations” before the trip, it didn’t register until now, when I rewatched it in preparation of this post.

Everything Bourdain says is true. Cuba is beautiful, absolutely gorgeous, but in a very unique way, much like the country itself. Nearly everything has a coat of rust, a sense of dilapidation about it, but the cracks and faded colors are as much a part of the country as the wrinkles and bad teeth of some of the inhabitants. Cuba’s unique situation — an educated but poor country, whose citizens are forbidden to travel and largely do not have Internet access — has given it that “frozen in time” look, a phrase often repeated, but the citizens are as modern and forward-thinking as you would find in other, more developed countries.

This episode both opens and closes with baseball, Cuba’s national pastime. Although we did not get the opportunity to witness a game, we did pass by the Estadio Latinoamericano, where the Industriales play. Like everything else in Cuba, the stadium is run down — buildings like this, especially such a public one, would never get into half as bad a shape if this was in the U.S. Like Bourdain points out (37:00), things don’t work, and food options are essentially nonexistent, but that’s not the point; it’s what makes Cuba Cuba. By far the most interesting thing in the whole episode (22:54) are the professional augmenters, fans licensed by the government to hang around and debate baseball. These are the guys who need their own show.

Anthony Bourdain and “No Reservations” is of course primarily about food. Although we were both tourists and so could only eat in specific places, Bourdain’s experience was far more luxurious than ours, and he admits as such. The restaurants we were taken to, mostly in Old Havana, where we stayed, were geared to tourists — their prices were in CUCs, Cuban’s tourist currency (yep, there’s a different, and far less valued, local currency known as Cuban pesos), and often menu descriptions were in English in addition to Spanish. He highlights specific restaurants and mentions Spanish food, all while discussing Cuba’s situation with his fixers. No fixers for us, but we’ll have more on the food we ate in upcoming posts.

Bourdain briefly mentions Old Havana at the 26 minute mark, a neighborhood both extremely touristy yet meant to be a local hubbub. Indeed, despite all the tourist restaurants, a block or two off the main roads yields “real Cuba” — although real Cubans are everywhere. Bourdain stays at the famous Hotel Nacional (12), which is where all the famous people stay. The hotel even has a wing dedicated to all the entertainers, heads of state, businessmen and athletes who have stayed there. Anthony Bourdain was not listed.

Cuban food may not be well known outside of rice and beans (which he does sample), but they are gaining a reputation in the organic farm world, which is what we were there for. He visits a bustling city market (13:01), quite different from what was essentially a little farmstand near the entrance of Vivero Alamar, but the food’s the same, as is the curiosity that everyone brings their own plastic bags.

One food none of us sampled, to my knowledge, was tamales, which is the street food Bourdain craves. We did pass vendors selling pastries (ask Rachel about that delicious coconut ball I regrettably didn’t buy), most of which we couldn’t identify.

Man, I am getting hungry, and I’m really jonesing for one of those coconut balls. They’ll be more posts about food on our trip, next time with pictures!