Wednesday, April 13, 2016

La Comida

Everyone says the food in Cuba is terrible. Bland. Bring hot sauce. Bring your own food. The New York Times had an article on how there are finally some good places in Habana, but of course they are fancy, expensive, need a reservation, not likely to go on my own and sit reading a book kind of places. Plus, I can't say they sounded like the kind of places I would like anyway.

Much to my surprise, the food here has been quite good! Granted, I'm a vegetarian who eats some fish, some seafood. I hate the term pescatarian, I have never identified with it. When I was 6 my parents raised us to be vegetarian, and I am now the only one in the family left who hasn't gone back to eating meat. My mom lasted until last year, which is pretty impressive. Firstly, the fruit here, as to be expected in a Caribbean island, is fantastic. The bananas are nothing like the bland, mealy things we eat at home. The mangos are incredible. There are some odd fruits I have yet to get used to, there's this one called the guyana which has a nice flavor, but it has these seeds which are about 1000x harder than grape nuts. I had to ask how it is meant to be eaten because I tried to chew a seed and nearly lost my crown. It turns out they eat the seeds, but they don't chew them, they just swallow them. I am pretty sure my digestive tract would not be overly welcoming to these beebees, so I ate around each seed. But the fruit juices, or just jugo are phenomenal. At first I worried about the water situation - normally in a developing country I would never drink or eat something that might have been rinsed in bad water or have bad water in it without being cooked, but I've pretty much thrown caution to the wind here. Okay, sure, I won't brush my teeth using the water, and I only drink the juice at the Casas where I am staying, not on the street, but still. For me, it's risky. Then there are the meals. Breakfast is standard fare. Eggs, bread (the bread is quite good), fruit, tomatoes and cheese. The sandwiches here are often pressed and toasted in those machines I still think of as all having come from an infomercial. They are quite good. They make a mean tuna sandwich. And then the fish dishes are also quite good. It's of course very fresh - I am trying not to think about whether the fish is a bottom feeder and how much mercury it might have in it - those are thoughts best left in California. And I have found the sauces to be quite tasty, and I'm pretty picky. Granted, some are over salted, which my mom would love, possibly because they have heard we pick on their food for being bland and thus the overcompensation with salt. Not sure. I have had better roasted vegetables here than in 95% of the eating establishments in the Bay Area. And the coconut milk fish in Baracoa, along with their vegetarian stews are fantastic. Granted, I am someone who finds one restaurant she likes and just goes back over and over again when I travel, but the fact that I have found so many I like was a surprise to me given all of the warnings. I was expecting it to be like Mongolia. Which definitely had the worst food I have eaten in any country, and worse yet for a vegetarian, though my traveling partner would have said the meat was no better. In fact, she pretended to be a vegetarian for the last week of our trip, having had her lifetime supply of mutton and mutton parts in the first two weeks.

The other thing I have done a lot of is eating meals prepared in the Casa Particulares in which I have stayed - I may have just gotten lucky, but the home cooked meals have been amazing and so cheap! A dinner with twice as many courses and food than even I can eat has been 9$. Breakfast is $3-5. I will say that the hotels - of which there are few relatively speaking here - have some of the worst food. I think they are trying to cater to some ideal of a tourist and losing the Cuban flair in the process. Granted, it wasn't long ago that there weren't private restaurants, or very few, and you either had to eat in state run restaurants, which I hear are awful, or eat at people's homes, but I can't imagine the home cooked meals were worse then? Maybe the reputation is a hold-over from then. At any rate, I've been very pleasantly surprised so far at the food, let's hope it continues! I have three more towns/cities to visit.

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