How to Enjoy an Authentic Cuban Culinary Experience
If you can’t make it to Cuba, it’s still possible to enjoy an authentic Cuban culinary experience. Because America is a melting pot of cultures, it isn’t difficult to find ways to taste the exciting flavors of this tropical country – as long as you know how – and where – to find them.
Find the Right Restaurant
If you’re looking to eat real, authentic Cuban food, you won’t find it by waltzing into the closest chain restaurant. Seek out an authentic Cuban restaurant that specializes in the country’s cuisine. Not sure how to find one? Search around and look at their menu. What food choices do they offer? Are they traditional Cuban dishes? This will be a key indicator as to what type of food you’re likely to see.
Just as there are a plethora of “Chinese” restaurants in America, most of them are nothing like traditional Chinese food in authentic restaurants. While there aren’t as many Cuban takeout restaurants that don’t serve up the real stuff, this can sometimes be the case.
If you’re in New York City, Agozar is one of the top places to enjoy an authentic Cuban culinary experience. This restaurant doesn’t just have dishes straight from Cuba – the décor, drinks, atmosphere, and people will all contribute to the experience of feeling like you’re dining in Cuba.
Choose the Most Authentic Dishes
So you’ve found an authentic Cuban restaurant. What you choose to order can determine if your experience is authentic, however.
Because diners have such a wide variety of dietary needs and preferences now, many restaurants carry meal options that sometimes aren’t as traditional. Try to stay away from these. For example, if you’re at an authentic Cuban restaurant, they may have a hamburger somewhere on the menu for those very picky eaters. Stay away from these types of options.
Your best bet is to order off the specials menu, or ask your server what their favorite meal off the regular menu is. Better yet, look around. What is everyone else eating? What looks and smells wonderful? Ask other customers what they recommend. Many times, the most popular dishes in a restaurant or area are often the best.
Cook at Home
Many people enjoy a night in, cooking and drinking with their friends and family. If that’s you, it’s still possible to taste the flavors of Cuba.
Many of traditional Cuban dishes take time; they’re cooked slowly, with love and care, and can’t be rushed. While there are also quick dishes you can whip up, such as a Cuban sandwich, plan on making your night of cooking an entire evening of fun – get into the culture and put on Cuban music, drink traditional cocktails, and take in all this beautiful countries’ cuisine has to offer.
Dishes to try at home include:
- Ajiaco Cubano, a hearty Cuban stew
- Arroz con pollo, rice with chicken
- Moros y Cristianos, black beans and rice
- Costillitas, Cuban ribs
- Montuno, sauté pork
- Ropa vieja, shredded beef
- Vaca frita, fried cow
- Rabo encendido, Cuban oxtail stew
Where to Buy Ingredients
Because some Cuban dishes require specialized ingredients, they can be difficult to find in your average grocery store. While you might get lucky in the international aisle of your regular shopping market, chances are that these ingredients have been Americanized, and aren’t traditional to Cuban culture.
Search around for specialty Cuban supermarkets. If you can’t find one dedicated specifically to the Cuban culture, you may have more luck locating a Latino foods store where they have a section dedicated to Cuban ingredients. This is where you’re most likely to find everything you need to cook a traditional Cuban meal at home.
What Utensils to Use
Cuban cooking at home may require more than just your average fry pan and pot. Learn what types of tools you’ll need to make authentic Cuban dishes. If you plan to make empanadas, it will be much easier, and more authentic, if you use an empanada press.
For traditional Cuban drinks, a mortar and pestle is key for grinding your spices, herbs, and other ingredients into perfection. Specialty stores will usually carry these tools of the trade, but if you don’t have access to one of these, ordering online will prove to be your best bet.
If you’re lucky enough to have an authentic Cuban restaurant near you, you’re in for quite a treat. But if that isn’t the case, no worries – you can still have an authentic Cuban culinary experience in the comfort of your own home. With a little research and willingness to step outside your comfort zone, you’ll be surprised and excited by everything the Cuban culture has to offer.