With so many immigrants on the island, it’s no surprise that Cuban dishes are a mix of African, Spanish and Caribbean tastes. Though certain dishes like Cuban black bean soup are well-known examples of Cuban cuisine, there are many other foods eaten in Cuba that you might want to try if you are visiting as a tourist.
Ropa vieja is a dish made with shredded beef that has been cooked in tomato sauce. The meat is cooked until it is extremely tender and practically falling apart. It’s served as a main course dish, with rice, black beans or plantains on the side. Other meats like chicken or pork may be used, but beef is more typical. The origins of this specific dish are the Canary Islands, where many people in Cuba are from.
Cuban tamales are not quite the same as tamales made in Mexico. The tamales are made with corn meal and pork, then tied up in a wrapping of corn leaves. They are then boiled and served in a variety of different dishes. Traditional tamales have a pork filling, but they can be made with chicken, beef and can have other vegetables as well. In some provinces, you’ll find spicier tamales made with jalapeno peppers too. If you’ve never had a tamale, you should know that you don’t eat the corn husk wrapping.
Black Bean Soup
As I mentioned above, Cuban black bean soup is one of the foods commonly associated with Cuban cuisine. Different regions around the island will have different mixtures of spices in their soups, but most black bean soup is made with black beans that have been cooked until quite soft in broth. The seasonings usually include some combination of bay, cumin, garlic and onion. The soup is sometimes pureed until smooth, or its eaten with the beans still whole.
A plantain is much like a banana, but not so sweet and a lot more starchy. Plantains are usually cooked and are used in many Cuban dishes much like a potato. Fried or mashed plantains are a frequent side dish served with meat. They are even thinly sliced and fried just like a North American potato chip.
One more popular Cuban food is the simple Cuban sandwich. It’s not particularly exotic but is still a signature food from the island. Made on crusty Cuban bread, a typical sandwich is filled with thin slices of roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, dill pickles and yellow mustard. The sandwich is then pressed and grilled heated through. You can find variations in Florida, sometimes with salami, tomatoes or lettuce.
Other examples of traditional Cuban dishes include:
- Arroz con pollo – sticky yellow rice cooked with chicken
- Croquetas – breaded and deep-fried rolls of dough with meat fillings
- Picadillo – a hash made of minced beef, and seasoned with cumin, garlic, oregano, peppers and onions.
After meals, there can be Cuban desserts like boniatillo (a sweet potato pudding).
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