Guavas, plantains, rum
What we ate — and what you should eat — in Havana
HAVANA — In truth, we’ve romanticized — and Americanized — what Cuban food is and what it ought to be. If your expectation is to come here and eat roast pork, ham, and cheese-filled sandwiches daily, you’re doing Cuba all wrong. Because in Havana, Cuba’s capital city, there’s amazing ice cream, private home restaurants—aka paladares—with salad bars and robust charcuterie, and there’s great stuff to munch on in Barrio Chino de la Habana. Still, there are few things you simply must try once you make the trip to the Northern Caribbean country. And it almost doesn’t matter where you go to get any of these taste sensations — though I have a few suggestions about where to check them out.
You’ve failed everyone back home if you don’t sample a mojito at least once while you’re here. It’s basically a requirement and just about everyone makes it differently. Do yourself a favor and ask for one with rum that’s been aged at least seven years. Marvel as your bartender prepares fresh lemon sugar to include in the rum-based drink — before sprinkling the top with dashes of bitters. Enjoy it slowly. Trust.
If you like your seafood plucked fresh from the ocean — and I can assure you I do — then you’ll find so many happy spaces in Havana, including Paladar HM7, a newer place that people come to for a showpiece culinary experience. There’s also steak, octopus, gazpacho, rice, beans, and if you sit upstairs on the second level, you can watch the chefs prepare your meal. The lobster is grilled to the chef’s liking. And I liked it. Very much!
Speaking of steak, it’s considered a treat on the island because most people don’t often get to eat it, but when President Barack Obama visited Cuba back in April, he had a steak at the family-owned San Cristobal Paladar (Jay Z and Beyoncé also dined here during their 2013 visit). The eclectic space also features cerdo asado and lobster, but Undefeated photographer/videographer Brent Lewis did get the steak — and he didn’t leave a scrap of meat on his plate. That’s a glowing endorsement, yes?
Breakfast just isn’t complete without some fresh-pressed guava juice. Skip the usual jugo de naranja and instead go for the pitcher of this peach-colored juice. And when you pass a bakery Havana, pop in and get a pastry filled with the fruit to send your senses soaring.
Even if you don’t need caffeine to get you going, you should take a sip of this delicious, hot cup of life. Order the cafe con leche if you can’t handle the full octane black, and sweeten it with the locally harvested miel (the honey!), which is a delicacy on the island.