Cuba has a rich cuisine that has evolved out of the island’s multi-layered, émigré history and new restaurants are opening all the time. Amerindians (Taino, Guanahatabey, and Siboney), Spanish colonials, especially from Galicia and the Canary Islands, French slave owners from Haiti, Chinese, Jewish, Arab and American migrants have all contributed.
Havana’s many paladares (private restaurants) offer the full breadth of the Cuban foodie experience, from the raw, domestic earthiness of classic Creole cooking to the finest sirloin with a shrimp and celery mousse. In the know locals seek out their favourite Café Cubano aficionados who brew their intense coffee with five stacked tablespoons of sugar added to one cup of water to create a darkly smoky-sweet pick me up.
Private restaurants were legalized in Cuba during the 1990s but prohibitive taxes and regulations, along with ignorance about entrepreneurism and a dearth of ingredients, meant that most were uninspired front-room affairs. However since Raúl Castro sanctioned small businesses chefs are now returning from overseas with capital to fund homegrown projects.
It is worth meeting up with these entrepreneurial restaurateurs and the small organic farmers who supply them, both in the city and further afield to understand the changes taking place. In all likelihood they will have a feast of freshly prepared ingredients waiting for you as well. The trick is knowing who to ask!