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Beyond "Scarface" and Cigars
July 17, 2014 9:42 PM   Subscribe

How to Eat Like a Cuban
"It wasn't until I was adopted into an enormous Cuban-American family, thanks to my fiancé , that I learned how to spot the Cubans—and now that I can, I see them everywhere. In three years, my extremely white self has gone from not being able to pronounce dulce de leche (don’t match those ch sounds—that’s a basic move) to knowing that I like my arroz con pollo asopao (a soupier preparation that ends up almost risotto-like).

Some of the stereotypes are true: Cubans love to party, and they can eat. Backyard pig roasts are the traditional way to celebrate pretty much any special occasion—this is a country whose two greatest exports (if they could export them) are cigars and sugar.

Bottom line: If you find some real Cubans, it's in your best interest to make friends, fast. Here's what you need to know to keep up without looking like a chump."
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (32 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
God, Miami Cuban food my mouth is watering. One of the only reasons I love going to Miami. My kingdom for a coladita right now.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:55 PM on July 17


Your list is missing ropa vieja and tostones and arroz con pollo.

Good call on the medianoche.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:56 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


Dominican food is not the same thing, I am mad there is way more fruit and corn and less pork.

Also that is not a lot of garlic in what they call a lot of garlic.

I will show you a lot of garlic it's a recipe I have from English grad students in the 70s which starts "take 30 cloves of garlic, a bottle of gin, a whole chicken, two lemons, one lime, and four hot peppers."
posted by The Whelk at 10:08 PM on July 17 [8 favorites]


That sounds like one hell of a cocktail.
posted by rifflesby at 10:39 PM on July 17 [17 favorites]


You don't put mojo on tostones or platanos maduros (which are sweet). You put something like mojo (which has heavy garlic and I suspect it's what the writer is thinking about, but it's not true mojo) on mariquitas (which are plantain chips). I mention this because if you go to a Cuban place and ask for plantains you're probably getting maduros (or maybe tostones), but you won't get the chips.

Yes, we've got (at least) three DELICIOUS plantain foods. We're Cubans we never use an ingredient just one way. Have you seen what we do with sugar and pork? :)

Furthermore (and I admit this is a nitpick) but there are indeed Cubans who drink mojitos (my mom's are delicious) and if you order a daiquiri you better not be thinking of the frozen abominations. If you like ropa vieja, try tasajo.

For a treat that is the essence of Cuba have some guarapo. It's pressed sugarcane juice. It's amazing. (Also, if you get it at a home, take a peace of the cane pulp and chew on it.)

Finally, what she notes about Castro, the revolution and el exilio is absolutely true. Don't bring it up, it won't end well. At best (at best!) you'll be subjected to an angry rant (and god help you if you try to argue with the ranter), at worst you'll get a sullen, depressed Cuban who'll spend the night looking forlornly into his rum. (The depression is worse than the anger, the anger will go away once the Cuban believes they've convinced you, the funk could last all night.)
posted by oddman at 10:48 PM on July 17 [11 favorites]


this is a country whose two greatest exports (if they could export them) are cigars

They can export them, I have some downstairs.

The point about Bacardi being Cuban also seems a bit lazy, its on the front of the bottles.
posted by biffa at 10:52 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


oddman: "Finally, what she notes about Castro, the revolution and el exilio is absolutely true. Don't bring it up, it won't end well. At best (at best!) you'll be subjected to an angry rant (and god help you if you try to argue with the ranter), at worst you'll get a sullen, depressed Cuban who'll spend the night looking forlornly into his rum. (The depression is worse than the anger, the anger will go away once the Cuban believes they've convinced you, the funk could last all night.)"

I think this is mostly true for Cubans in the US. The Cubans I've met who are living here in Mexico are, well, not entirely positive towards Castro, or they wouldn't have left, I guess, but at least have a great deal of affection towards him.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:47 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


if they could export them

Yes, this is a strangely persistent and widespread misconception among Americans. I don't quite know whether the subconscious assumption is that the rest of the world automatically embargoes whatever the US embargoes, or that the rest of the world doesn't exist or is insignificant.

I really think that if the American public could get its head round the idea that being deprived of trade with the US does not amount to being besieged on all sides, the futile embargo could have been lifted long ago.
posted by Segundus at 11:59 PM on July 17 [8 favorites]


It's quite trivial to obtain vast quantities of Cuban cigars outside of the US.
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:51 AM on July 18


It's probably a good idea not to bring up divisive political events with people you don't know in general.
posted by kersplunk at 1:44 AM on July 18 [6 favorites]


I will show you a lot of garlic it's a recipe I have from English grad students in the 70s which starts "take 30 cloves of garlic, a bottle of gin, a whole chicken, two lemons, one lime, and four hot peppers."

You can't beat a full English breakfast.
posted by dowcrag at 1:55 AM on July 18 [12 favorites]


It's quite trivial to obtain vast quantities of Cuban cigars outside of the US.

It's quite trivial to travel to Cuba as a US citizen from countries not the US.
posted by Pudhoho at 2:11 AM on July 18


It's forty cloves of garlic. Forty.
posted by valkane at 4:27 AM on July 18 [4 favorites]


Also, love this post, love Cuban food, would love to go to Cuba.

Also, unfrozen daiquiris are indeed superb, and were IIRC John F. Kennedy's favorite cocktail.

Also, both my favorite drink from, and book about Cuba have the same name: Cuba Libre!

Maybe I can fly there from Canada?
posted by valkane at 4:38 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]



Not sure how it would work for a US citizen but it's easy peasy to fly to Cuba from Canada. One of my bosses has been going to Cuba every year for about ten years. I've know lots of people who have gone or are planning to go. When you go on travel sites there are always lots of all inclusive packages to choose from that are pretty cheap in comparison to other places.

I just looked and found some last minute sell offs and you can get 7 nights for around 600 bucks Canadian (including tax).
posted by Jalliah at 4:54 AM on July 18


Yum.
posted by spitbull at 5:09 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Damn, it's 8:20 AM and I'm hungry for some Cuban food. Which is a problem not only because it's morning but because there's about 3 Cubans in my area at most and none of them own restaurants or food trucks.
posted by tommasz at 5:23 AM on July 18


Now I'm hungry and still don't know how to properly pronounce dulce de leche.
posted by achrise at 5:51 AM on July 18


It's quite trivial to travel to Cuba as a US citizen from countries not the US.

I've a co-worker who honeymooned in Cuba, through the simple expedient of first flying to Toronto.

Also, Cuban cigars are widely available at, f'rinstance, Niagara Falls.
 
posted by Herodios at 5:56 AM on July 18


Now I'm hungry and still don't know how to properly pronounce dulce de leche

Dool-say Day Letch-ay.

Sin Azucar por favor!


I was adopted by a Cuban family when I was living in South Florida, and I'm still a member of the family. I love my friend like a sister, her daughter is my Sobrina. When she got married I sat at the 'family table' with my friend, the mother of the bride, and cousins and siblings.

Thanksgiving was traditional American, and I'm responsible for the cranberries. Noche Buena (Christmas Eve) was all about Cuba, complete with pig in a pit in the backyard. Abuelo gets the tail! I was responsible for the cranberries--because that shit is TASTY with lechon.

I can go to that place on 27th Ave, El Palacio de los Jugos, and order everything I like to eat. My Spanish accent is Cuban, although I always was seated next to Tia Lili, the Mexican aunt, because no one else could understand her.

We danced, drank, sang along with Celia Cruz and once we had a live band and I got to beat the bongos a bit.

I have SUCH an affection for my Cuban family and I still cook A-MAZING Cuban food, even though I'm Atlanta. Thank Goodnes we have Publix! Where else would I get my mojo?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:03 AM on July 18 [4 favorites]


I've been to at least two of the restaurants listed (it's been a while, I can't remember all of the names) and they were fantastic. I think I could eat ropa vieja every day and never get tired of it.

I don't smoke cigars (because yuck) but I've been with friends when they were buying them and there are many places in the US that will happily sell you a supposedly Cuban cigar. (Whether it is authentic or not is a different question, of course.)

Of course there is a lot of overlap in food across the entire Caribbean, but the differences are huge too, and it's only "basically the same" if you don't really know what you are eating.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:03 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Anyone seen the new movie Chef? Nothing has made me want to visit Miami and eat Cuban food more.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:14 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


Dool-say Day Letch-ay.

Thanks, exactly what I thought, but that doesn't seen to jibe with "don’t match those ch sounds". And why "those" when there is only on ch sound in there? Confundido.
posted by achrise at 7:24 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


ooooh this looks so dang delicious! Too bad there's not a single cuban restaurant within miles.

I'll have to give that coffee a shot with my Moka Pot. Yum whipped sugar, yes please!
posted by rebent at 7:26 AM on July 18


Thanks, exactly what I thought, but that doesn't seen to jibe with "don’t match those ch sounds"

I think this is because you often hear people pronounce it "dul-che de le-che" in the manner of the Italian "dolce".
posted by briank at 7:48 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


That list of cuban restaurants in miami doesn't include Versailes and thus is totally useless.
posted by captaincrouton at 7:57 AM on July 18


Don't buy Bustelo; it's almost always stale & powdery. Just make any good espresso in your stovetop pot.
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:27 AM on July 18


Anyone seen the new movie Chef? Nothing has made me want to visit Miami and eat Cuban food more.

Great movie that had our audience moaning with the lingering food prep shots and sounds.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:31 AM on July 18


That list of cuban restaurants in miami doesn't include Versailes and thus is totally useless.

I was going to point out that Versailles is famous and it's a place you ought to go to in a pilgrimage sort of way, but no one thinks its food is topnotch and so doesn't have a place on a "Ten Best" list, but that list doesn't really pick out places with great food. So, yeah, it's weird (and dumb) to leave off Versailles.
posted by oddman at 8:45 AM on July 18


Cuban food is one of the few things on the "Reasons I regret leaving Florida for Colorado" list. (Publix is another.)
posted by ThatSomething at 6:10 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


What about La Carreta?
posted by bonefish at 11:06 PM on July 18


This article was only focused on Miami Cubans, which is really only one part of the story. She mentions that almost all Cuban Americans arrived here during or after the 1950s, but there has been a large and thriving Cuban population in Tampa since the 1880s. Tampa also lays claim to the original Cuban sandwich (which Miami contests, but all right thinking people know the truth). With the population having lived there for so much longer, the cuisine has had a bit more time to stew and marinate with itself and the other local food and boy is it fantastic. If you don't have a trip to Florida planned but want to try the food, Clarita Garcia of Las Novedades wrote the definitive book on old school Tampa Cuban/Spanish cooking.

One thing she and I can agree on, though: never turn down an invite to noche buena if you're lucky enough to get one.
posted by mosessis at 2:57 AM on July 30


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