I’ve been back in the country for a month, which I’ve spent processing my semester in Cuba. I can honestly say it was an amazing experience and I took enough notes on my trip to write a fairly decent book.
Cuba was an unbelievable adventure that I was never really sure would happen. I assumed I was headed to paradise, but found a place a bit different from what I expected. Now I want to describe that experience. Over the next couple weeks, I am going to tell you the narrative of my trip to Cuba, but not in any sort of day-to-day fashion, but rather around some of the things I enjoyed the most ranging from food to music to a trip I took to a hospital in Santa Clara.
Unlike some of my friends, I really enjoyed Cuban food. I wouldn’t make any sort of stretch to call it cuisine, but I crave it now that I’m back in the United States. Meals were heavier in meat than I expected although there is virtually no beef. I found myself enjoying pork in just about every preparation style from lomo ahmuado, which is a smoked pork chop, to thinly cut bistec de cerdo, to ground pork burgers. I found along with this that some things were very American. A cheeseburger is called a cheeseburger, not a hamburguesa con queso.
In Havana, there were a number of restaurants that we became regulars at. One of them we referred to as the Buccanero Tent. It was aptly referred to this, because of the Buccanero beer tent that you sat down to eat under. The Bucannero tent was a great place for chicken. A quarter of chicken with a little bit of salad, rice, and some chips came to only about 3 Convertible pesos, or about $3 American.
There were a couple cafeterias that were pretty popular with us as well. Some of the ones I enjoyed the most sold food in national pesos, so it far cheaper. Behind a retirement was one of my favorite ones called Casa de Fatima. Casa de Fatima had good and inexpensive hamburgers as well as some of the best batidos (Cuban milkshakes) I’ve ever had. My favorite flavor by far was guava. For roughly $2.50 American, I could walk away with a batido and a burger.
Although I only went there twice, El Ajibe was one of my favorite places to eat in Cuba. For $10, El Ajibe served all you can eat chicken, salad, beans, rice, French fries, and fried plantains. They also had an extensive wine cellar and were the only restaurant that had anything that could be described as good customer service.
Those are only a few of the places I really enjoyed eating at in Cuba. As much as I liked eating at those places or eating a meal cooked by our crazy Cuban housekeeper LaChina, I started to notice some things that made dining in Cuba different by the end of the trip.
Customer service in the Cuban food and beverage industry is lacking to say the least. I had far too many occasions where food took forever, I wasn’t asked if I wanted a drink or was downright ignored. Servers at some restaurants even rolled their eyes at customers, even when they were Cubans and not Americans like us. Tipping isn’t big in Cuba and there really isn’t much motivation or incentive to provide good service, so dining took a long time.
Go into any American restaurant and it is a surprise to see them out of anything unless it is a special. It started to become regular that a restaurant would be missing pretty basic things. No pork, no ham, no cheese, and no coffee were some of the examples of this. There is only basically one kind of cheese in Cuba, Gouda. I love gouda just as much as the next person, but when it is your only option, you get sick of it pretty quickly.