On Cuban Cuisine: if you’re vegan and traveling to Cuba there are some options, but if you’re sick trying to find healing greens you might be out of luck (as was my case). While the Cuban culture is beautifully rich with passion, art, dance, music and love, it's lacking in green veggies unless it’s the season (below is the only chlorophyll I found - delicious mint in an even more delicious mojito ). Honestly, I expected to eat rice and beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner so the fact that there was anything more than that was a bonus. The photo above was a delicious black bean appetizer included in the very first meal we ate when we arrived in Havana, and it would be the last time I saw cilantro for the week. Had I known I probably would have hoarded those two pieces. :D
Many places offered pasta dishes and the black beans and rice that I did eat were outstanding, bursting with flavor. I had three different pastas while there: pasta with peppers, tomatoes and onions, pasta with red sauce and pasta with pesto (okay the basil in the pesto technically counts as a green, which is why this pasta ranked as my favorite).
Mangos on the street were to-die-for. I wanted to eat mango and avocado every day but, alas, no avocado to be found. I later learned that it wasn't avocado season and I’d have to come back in September to get avocado - but then mango would be out of season — so that combination in Cuba doesn’t exist.
As I was searching the fruit cart trying to find the sweetest, ripest mango, the nice produce man gave me a banana after I expressed my enthusiasm for finding fresh produce on the street. To be honest, I am not a banana person, but since he was so generous and proud of his banana I had to try it and shared half with Ricky. (Vegan beggars can't be choosers, right?) If you're wondering, bananas in Cuba seem to have the same flavor as bananas in the States. It was super fun just to grab produce right off of the cart and start noshing. Also readily available were guava and pineapple. In fact, if fruit smoothies are your thing then you'll be in shape, because Cubans make the most delicious fruit smoothies out of these flavorful, fibrous fruits. (Our Airbnb host made us a different delicious fruit smoothie each morning. See photo below.)
The photo below was my breakfast salad each morning. Typically breakfast includes bread, butter, eggs and some type of meat. When I explained to our Airbnb host that I was vegan he went out of his way searching for vegetables to make a salad each morning. The salads didn't have any dressing. Instead they give you a salt shaker to add a little salt. One morning he said (in broken english) "Tomorrow, I try to find you lechuga." The next day he was beyond excited that he was able to offer lettuce, which he used instead of cucumber and green pepper — it was a luxury item! How sweet and amazing that he went out of his way to find vegetables and prepare this for me each morning. I truly appreciated the sentiment and, although it wasn't exactly the way I'd prepare a salad at home, it was created with fresh local produce and made with love from Havana.
Finding a variety of vegan foods in Cuba proved to be a bit of a challenge but I did stumble upon an adorable cafe called Papa Ernesto that had homemade quinoa and lentils - Slovakian style! I later found out that the owner’s husband is Slovakian. (More on her inspiring story in the next blog.) I bought the last of the quinoa and lentils since there would be no more to be made until the owner’s husband could fly back to Miami to restock — maybe next month. I made them last over a two day period!
So if you’re thinking of traveling to Cuba, be prepared for the best rice and beans you’ve ever had, the juiciest (and largest) mango on the planet and fried plantains with your mojito. Enjoy the mint from your mojito and bring some powdered greens if you’re used to greening it up daily. The culture is rich and the people are beautiful - thank you for an unforgettable gastro experience, Cuba.❤️
Enjoying mojitos at Papa Ernesto. Why was Ricky on his phone? There's zero cell phone service in Cuba so prepare to be completely disconnected. (It was nice!)