Food in Cuba
Cuban food is born from Native American, Spanish, African and other Caribbean influences. There are many types of restaurants and food in Cuba. Here's a synopsis of what you need to know.
Where to Eat in Cuba
There are lots of places to eat in Cuba ranging from high-end restaurants to private houses to street food. Here's the skinny.
Note: Not too long ago, food in Cuba was very bland due to little access to spices, but this is changing for the better. Still, many lower end restaurants and street food have very basic meals only.
A paladar is an independent restaurant run by individual entrepreneurs. They are relatively new to Cuba in the last 10 years, but they are responsible for improving the food scene in Cuba. Prices are almost always in CUC and range from 7-15 CUC per entree. You'll find mostly travelers and more affluent Cubans here.
Casa particulares, or Cuba's version of home sharing, is probably the best way to get an authentic, homemade Cuban meal. If you're staying at one, definitely take advantage of breakfast there, which is usually 4-5 CUC extra. They will also make lunch (sometimes to-go) and dinner upon request, which usually runs 6-10 CUC. Even if you're not staying at a casa, you can email or call them to arrange a meal in their home, which is recommended.
Not long ago, travelers mainly had one type of option for eating out. These restaurants are run by the Cuban government and on average the food and service are more bland than at private restaurants. Prices range from 4-12 CUC and about half of these restaurants operate in CUP, especially outside of Havana or typical tourist destinations.
Americans should avoid state-run restaurants overseen by Habaguanex, which are run by the military. Here's a list of those restaurants.
Cafeterias are indoor fast food restaurants. These places are where Cubans will eat out at regularly, other than street food. You can expect burgers, sandwiches, and regular rice and bean dishes here. The prices are almost always in CUP, and typically run around 20-40 CUP / 1-2 CUC. Many are open 24 hours, making these a great late-night snacking destination.
The typical Cuban bakery will sell Cuban bread (which is a denser version of a baguette), usually at a specific time of day. Many bakeries will also sell small Cuban treats pastelitos, jammed with fruit filling. They almost certainly take CUP and it will cost you no more than 12 CUP / 0.50 CUC for a delicious snack.
Cuba has a variety of street food sold from windows, stands, or just individuals with baskets or wheelbarrows. You typical street-side window will be selling pizzas, ham sandwiches or empanadas. You typical cart might sell pre-made boxes of classic Cuban dishes consisting of meat, rice and beans. These meals are very basic, but can fill you up for only 8-20 CUP / 0.30-1 CUC. Some smaller carts or individuals commonly sell peanuts wrapped in paper cones, popsicles, ice cream and other treats. Street vendors always take CUP, but if you only have CUC they will simply give you change in CUP.
Local farm markets, called either agromercados or agropecuarias, are filled with fruit, vegetables and occasionally meat. These are are great places to pick up some delicious tropical fruit as a snack, and vendors will often peel and squeeze fresh juice for you right on the spot. Prices are listed in CUP.
A typical meal will include either sandwiches or rice and beans, either cooked together or apart.
- Cuban sandwich - Sometimes called a mixto is a popular lunch item that is built on a base of lightly buttered Cuban bread and contains sliced roast pork, thinly sliced ham, Swiss cheese, dill pickles, and yellow mustard.
- Medianoche sandwich - Very similar to a Cuban sandwich except that Cuban bread is replaced by an egg loaf and ham is sometimes excluded. The name comes from it's popularity as a late night snack.
- Pan con lechón - A traditional pressed sandwich created simply with Cuban bread, roasted pork, onions, and mojito.
- Pan con bistec - Made similarly to the lechón version, but the pork is replaced with a thin sirloin steak.
- Arroz con Pollo - A traditional dish of Cuba, closely related to paella. Rice pilaf with a chicken breast or leg served in the middle is how most Cubans prepare it.
- Moros y Cristianos - This dish is served at virtually every Cuban restaurant. It consists of rice cooked in black beans, served together.
- Ropa Vieja - A Cuban dish made with braised shredded flank, brisket or skirt steak swimming in a flavorful tomato sauce base. Served over fluffy white rice. It may translate to 'old clothes' in English, but it's quite good.
- Vaca Frita - Skirt steak marinated in oregano, parsley, cilantro, garlic, cinnamon, and red vinegar, then braised until fall-apart tender. It's served along side lime-infused onions and peppers for a bright pop of flavor.
- Tostones - Twice-fried plantain slices, much like potato chips.
- Fried Sweet Plantains - This classic snack is made with overripe plantains fried in hot oil to produce maduros that are sweet and tender.
- Malanga Fritters - Malanga is similar to a yam in appearance and a potato in flavor. By shredding the malanga, it comes together easily into a batter that fries up crispy and delicious. Tamarindo Ketchup is the perfect dipping sauce to this classic roadside snack.
- Yucca Fingers - These are essentially the Cuban version of the french fry, except thicker and made out of yucca.
- Pastelitos - These baked puff pastries are filled with sweet or savory fillings. Traditional filling are cream cheese, guava, pineapple and coconut.
- Tres Leches Cake - A sponge cake soaked in three types of milk: evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream.
- Flan - Cuban flan is made with the addition of the whites of two eggs and a cinnamon stick. A similar Cuban dish is "Copa Lolita", a small caramel flan served with one or two scoops of vanilla ice-cream. Other variations include coconut, guayaba or rum raisin topping.
Updated March 15, 2018