Havana is the heart of Cuba and has served as the island's capital since the 16th century. As Cuba's main port and commercial centre, Havana is the hub of social life and recreation. The city, steeped in historical irony, served as a springboard for the Spanish conquest of the Americas and became the heart of many revolutions and struggles for independence. Today, millions of tourists visit Havana, many with a deep passion for the local food culture.
Here is a list of local delicacies that will help you balance your discovery of Havana's rich and colourful history with the best of what this vibrant culinary scene has to offer.
Paella is a national dish of Spanish cuisine, its homeland is the city of Valencia. In Spain, there are about three hundred varieties of paella. In each Spanish province, paella is cooked in its own way: with meat, fish, seafood. There is also a vegetarian paella. But the main ingredients remain unchanged: it is saffron-flavored rice, tomatoes, and olive oil.
While we can trace the roots of this dish all the way back to the 10th century in Spain, Cuba has made this dish its own. While there are many variations, the seafood paella is the most commonly found in Cuba. Considered initially "labourers" food, this dish is as flavorful as it is filling. With a rice base, it is expertly seasoned with saffron and aromatics like onion and garlic. Vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and peas are common additions, as is chorizo and, of course, as much seafood as possible; commonly, shrimp, mussels, and clams are used.
Mas Habana is the best choice to start exploring Cuban food.
Cones of palm leaves, filled with honey, coconut pulp, guava, pineapple, and orange.
Cucurucho is a delight that originates in another Cuban city, Baracoa. While Baracoa is nestled at the eastern end of Cuba, opposite Havana's western placement on the island, its popularity has ensured that it is widely enjoyed in Havana and all over Cuba. At its heart, cucurucho is a blend of sugar, coconut, nuts, and fruit wrapped in a palm leaf shaped like a cone. You can find this delicacy from vendors on the street, beach, and in many restaurants.
Wonderful sweets are the specialty of Coppelia, so it's worth checking out.
This dish is also prepared from fried and chopped beef, seasoned with orange, salt, and pepper, and served with a garnish of onions and rice.
This enticing dish is made by slow-cooking steak and onions until flavourful and tender, then sautéing it to create crispy bits of heaven that simultaneously crunch and melt in your mouth. Vaca frita is often topped with a squeeze of lime, brightening the flavors and cutting the richness, and served with rice and beans.
Paladar Doña Eutimia is in a great location and has great food.
It is a beef stew in tomato and wine sauce, to which rice and black beans are usually served as a garnish.
The national dish of Cuba has global origins, and the flavor reflects this complexity. Its name is derived from the term "old clothes," which some connect to the use of leftovers from other dishes or a fascinating tale about a man who prayed for a miracle to feed his family while he stewed his shredded clothes in a pot. The highlight of ropa vieja is the slow-cooked flank steak. A sofrito base and various spices are paired with the meat giving way to a rich and satisfying flavor profile.
La Esquina de Cuba is a great place to try authentic food.
Fricassee can be found worldwide, and Cuban Fricassee de Pollo marries the best of all variations. This dish is %100 homemade comfort food; it is warming, hearty, and inexpensive to make - it passes every test. Marinated dark chicken meat is lightly seared and then simmered with potatoes in a bright tomato base and served over rice. Some variations include olives, citrus juices, aromatics, and spices. You will not be disappointed if you experience the more basic version or an offering of chicken fricassee with all the bells and whistles.
Los Naranjos is famous for its vitrage windows and quality food.
Chicken with rice can be called a typical dinner in Thailand. On the plate, you put rice, carefully garnish the cooked chicken top and pour out a special Thai sauce.
Like many Cuban recipes, this dish has its roots in Spain; however, Cuba has mastered it and made it all its own. Although this dish also uses rice and chicken, it varies in that flavourful chicken thighs are typically used along with ingredients like pimentos, turmeric, and bright green peas. A little more down-to-earth than paella, chicken with rice is a family-friendly dish that will leave everyone at the table wanting more.
El Carbon would be a perfect choice here.
You can't get more decadent than lobster, which is true in almost every part of the world. Lobster, Cuban style, is a decidedly unique presentation of the widely worshipped seafood. Often, the lobster's tail is the meat of choice. The tails are grilled and tend to be paired with a sofrito or a spicy citrus sauce, and the distinct smoke and slight char left on the tails move this grilled lobster to the next level. You cannot go wrong with this local lobster dish; it's sure to leave you wanting more!
O'Reilly 304 is perfect for a relaxing time and an exotic meal.
Cuban sandwich will please lovers of snacks. The most delicate meat perfectly matches with mayonnaise-garlic sauce and the sweetness of fried onions.
This sandwich of juicy roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard on 8-12 inches of delicious buttered Cuban bread will be whispering to you in your sleep. It is not only a staple in Cuba but also so prevalent in Florida that there are long-standing rivalries between cities regarding whose variation is the most authentic. Indeed a complete meal, this incredibly satisfying Cuban sandwich will give you all the energy you need to sight-see all day and into the night.
Lo De Monik is an excellent place for a quick bite.
Mojito traditionally includes 5 ingredients: white rum, sugar (initially - sugar cane juice), lime juice, carbonated water, and mint.
Mojito is a traditional Cuban alcoholic beverage that has won over anyone who has tried it. Refreshing and tart with smooth rum, lime, and a hit of mint, it's almost necessary to beat the heat and keep you going at your favourite bar or restaurant. Havana is the birthplace of the mojito, so it is as authentically Cuban as you can get. Not only did it disguise the harsh taste of unrefined rum early on in its distribution, but it is also said to have been Ernest Hemingway's most loved drink.
Habana 61 is perfect for a good drink.
This cocktail combines the Cuban rum and the American cola. At the beginning of the last century, it seemed that the friendship between the US and Cuba would be eternal, so the cocktail was enjoyed with pleasure by residents of both countries
The original rum and coke, the Cuba Libre, has been a trademark drink in Cuba since the early 20th century. Served over crushed ice and often incorporated with lime juice, this drink takes refreshing to an entirely different sphere. To this day, it is one of the most popular drinks locally and around the globe. A mixture of many worlds, colonial, American, and Cuban, this drink is an authentic reflection of the period it was created within. So, Cuba Libre will have your back if you want to take the edge off, cool off, or kickstart a great evening.
Eat some great food at El Rum Rum de la Habana and have a drink.
There is no doubt that Havana has much to see and do, not least of which is its beautiful, delicious, and rich culinary scene. So make sure your trip to Cuba includes an exploration of the cuisine, and look out for some of the best authentic food in local restaurants while you're there!