While authentic Cuban food is tasty and healthful, it’s not often described with superlatives. Typical Cuban meals revolve around staples like pork, fish and chicken, accompanied by some combination of rice, beans and viandas (root vegetables). There generally isn’t much deviation from these basics, so while in Cuba, it’s likely you’ll have the chance to try traditional dishes such as ropa vieja (stewed shredded beef), ajiaco (rich stew made with meat and viandas) and tostones (plantain fritters) on more than one occasion. That said, the lack of variety is compensated for by high-quality and unprocessed ingredients. In a country where there is very little factory farming and agriculture is mostly organic, food is usually fresh and locally sourced.
The use of seasonings in Cuban cooking is minimal, and unlike their Mexican neighbors to the west, Cubans aren’t particularly fond of spicy flavors. In addition, years of food shortages and restrictions on imported foodstuffs are very much a part of Cuba’s recent history. So, combine a conservative approach to food preparation with a limited selection of ingredients, and it becomes easier to understand why the cuisine doesn’t often top the list of Cuba’s attractions. If you’re a fan of picante, you may want to liven things up by packing your own hot sauce. This trend is quickly changing, however, as creativity in the cocina is encouraged by local chefs’ newfound ability to open their own restaurants. Relaxed restrictions on private enterprise has resulted in a paladar (non-government eatery) boom, with new businesses opening up every day in private homes, colonial buildings and other unique locales.