Everyone I talked to and all the reviews I read before hitting the Cuban resort hard, warned me that the food would be terrible. Which is interesting because it really wasn’t. I’m not saying I loved every single thing laid out before me but I enjoyed the food, the wine, and the beverages in general way more than everyone said I would.
Let’s talk about what didn’t work for me in Cuba. Every morning I dutifully slapped some fruit on my plate because a) I had lost 12 pounds before our trip (Thank you, influenza and pneumonia!) and wanted to keep the weight off and, b) I felt like I should eat local fruit since I live in Canada and it was winter back home and scurvy. I tried to do the same thing with vegetables, thinking local and all that good stuff.
Except I’m not the biggest produce eater to begin with and I really don’t like papaya. Or guava. Or the weird tasting pale pink watermelon that they have there. Insert travel guilt here.
The yogurt. That was just weird. It came in pitcher so it was really more kind of like kefir. One kid liked it, particularly when mixed with juice, and one kid didn’t want anything to do with it. Since I was taking a break from micro-managing the boys diets that week, I didn’t worry too much about the absence of yogurt at breakfast.
And while everyone was complaining about the overcooked vegetables, those were the ones I kind of liked. Look. I grew up in the 60s and 70s where everything was cooked to death and covered in either bacon or cheese. Or both. #southern So when the brussel sprouts came out one night on the buffet (do those grow in Cuba?), all overcooked and all, I was delighted and ate my fill. Which was great since no one else liked them. Same with the cauliflower…hello mushy veggies. This is why I don’t have a foodie website. I have the taste and diet of an unattended child at a birthday party.
I did find some pretty amazing things to eat that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to replicate anywhere else. Which makes me kind of sad and my waist line a little bit relieved all at the same time. Here are my top five favorite (and kind of weird) foods that we found in Cuba.
The soft drink, not the bad stuff. Jeez, I was traveling with kids and I’m a nice girl. Mostly.
It took me about five days before I noticed that someone was drinking a coke at lunch. Up until then, I’d been dutifully drinking water (yes, you can drink the water here!) Ummm…..I didn’t know that was an option so I asked my waitress in my handy dandy Spanish if they have diet coke here.
SPANISH LESSON: “Tienes diet coke, aqui?” or “Tienes coca-cola light, aqui?”
Why, yes they do! Given that I drink at least two and possibly four diet cokes aka Pepsi Maxes a day back in Canada, I was beyond delighted to get my hands on my first dose of fizzy caffeine in almost a week.
Except, good Lord, sweet mother of all things holy! What exactly was in this amazing drink? It didn’t taste like anything I’d ever had before in my life. Perfectly sweet, full cola flavor and no weird aspartame after taste. My Spanish isn’t good enough to ask those kinds of questions so that I could find out the brand and smuggle this nectar home in my suitcase. (Seriously…who needs rum when soda tastes so dang fine?) I’ve gone on and on about the taste of diet Coke in Cuba until someone suggested that maybe they use real sugar. A little research revealed they use pure cane sugar and not the crappy high fructose corn syrup we’re used to up here. Ah-maze-ing. Note to cola sellers in North America. Get on that. Please!
I’ve never really liked the taste of coffee all that much and drink tea in the mornings. Or a diet coke. Don’t judge. But on my first morning in Cuba, after arriving at the resort at 1 am with my two boys, I felt the need for a bit of caffeine and had my first cafe con leche. Wrinkling my nose, I took that first tenuous sip, prepared to be knocked off my chair by the full blown strong coffee you kind of associate with the Caribbean. Except, it was delicious. Like coffee should be. All flavor, no bitterness, and no yukky coffee taste hanging around my mouth for hours on end. I didn’t even need gum after I drank this coffee. I proceeded to develop a small addiction, drinking 3-4 cups every morning. It was clearly magical in addition to delicious, since I successfully tuned out the boys demands to go swimming while I sipped cup after cup. I miss that coffee so much. Sorry, Tim Horton’s. I tried coffee again when I got home and you don’t cut it. I’ll be back when you have that candy cane hot chocolate, though 😉
Some days the bacon on the buffet had been baked which left a lot to be desired because the underside would be flabby and greasy. But the days that fried bacon made an appearance (usually every second day) were days to thank the Gods for. No one does bacon, or any kind of pork really, like Cubans. So lean, so perfectly cooked that even Aiden, who generally only eats white food, ate his fill. Why, yes. That empty spot once held bacon.
I wanted to smuggle that bacon out of the restaurants and hoard it for later. Don’t be alarmed if you’re in Cuba and you see the bacon in the buffet and it looks all black and burned. It’s not. It’s perfection. Good-bye fruit, hello bacon. Hello 6 pounds as well, but I’m sure that was because of the fruit I wasn’t used to. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to read that there’s a bacon shortage in Cuba after we left. #sorrynotsorry
Like the bacon, ham should be in a food category of it’s own in Cuba. Never fatty and always perfectly seasoned, it was cooked perfectly no matter how many different places I tried it. I must have had ham at least twice a day and I’m longing for it now. Even the ham sandwich at the airport in Holguin was to die for. Mucho yummo.
That Weird Cuban Vanilla Syrup
If you’ve been to a Cuban all inclusive, you’ll notice that pancakes are often served with honey or one of 5 or so different flavored syrups in big plastic bottles. Those syrups are very interesting. The caramel one is almost black and the strawberry syrup is so neon pink/red that I’m sure it can be seen from space. And then I found vanilla syrup. I love anything vanilla so when I saw the bottle at the buffet, I was delighted to add it to my pancakes. And french toast. And later to my ice cream. But the shock I got when I first poured it, actually stopped me in my tracks. That syrup was bright orange. My Spanish is adequate (barely) but I had to re-read the bottle to make sure I was actually using vanilla syrup. Indeed.
Cuba has made some great choices with cola and pork but some weird ones when it comes to food coloring. Once I tasted it however, I was completely hooked. Sweet, vanilla-y, and totally artificial. Loved it. Couldn’t get enough of it. I made the boys use honey and refused to share any of this weird vanilla topping that glowed in the dark. That kind of says it all.