Top 10 local foods to try in Cuba

Ieva Miltina 24 January 2022 193 views 5 min. read

Cuba is one of the countries with a very distinctive and well-known image worldwide. Maybe because of the American movies, or maybe because the country itself is so vibrant and particular that it is hard to leave it unnoticed. The sensual dances and music like salsa and bachata, the revolutionaries like Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Or maybe the image of laid back lifestyle on this heavenly island, with a rum cocktail in hand and the joyous company of beautiful people. However, what food do they eat in Cuba? And what are the reasons why people love the dishes of popular food in Cuba? Or, for what it matters, how much is food in Cuba if you decide to travel there and indulge yourself in the precious, delicious dishes of their cuisine? 

In this article, you will hear all that, because I want to give you some impression about the most popular food in Cuba through presenting a few amazing dishes. Even more so, I am eager to explain more on the background of Cuban cuisine - a short story on the origins, ingredients, and more worldly information on the cost of food in Cuba. And hopefully, by the end of the article, you will be inspired to learn more, try some yourself or even arrange a Cuba visa and go there to get the full experience. However, let’s start with the basics.

What are the origins of traditional food in Cuba?

cuban paella

Like many other Caribbean and Latin American countries, Cuba’s culinary heritage is very diverse and rooted in various influences from all over the world. Spanish and French colonists and African slaves back in the day brought the main characteristics to the plate of the Cuban table. However, even more so - the tropical weather and closeness to the sea have been an important base for making it as vibrant as it is nowadays. Unsurprisingly, all of these influences are why the main ingredients used in Cuban cuisine are plantains, rice, beans, some meats, and seafood. And, of course, the locally sourced fruit and veg. 

What are the 10 dishes of the most popular food in Cuba?

1. Ropa Vieja

ropa vieja

If you ask me what is the most popular food to eat in Cuba then ropa vieja is definitely among the few stars on this list. This succulent beef and tomato stew often served with congri rice and fried plantains are in the heart of Cuban cuisine!

2. Saoco

Okay, this is not an actual food to eat in Cuba, but I could not leave one of the most prominent stars of Cuban culture out of this list. I am talking about rum here! And so is an old-school Cuban cocktail that stems from poverty, drunk by countryside workers and slaves to help them endure the heat while working on the field. Keeping this story in mind, trying this cocktail of rum, fresh coconut water, lime, and sugar will be a great way to soothe one’s willingness for a refreshing drink but consider the historical background of the real Cuban people, too.

3. Batidos

milkshake

Or, let’s say - Cuban milkshakes. You will say there is nothing special about having a milkshake because you can have it anywhere in the world. However, the Cuban ones come with more local and delicious flavors like mango, mamey, guanabana. And if you want to try something especially unique - go for batido de Trigo, or the wheat milkshake. You will not find it anywhere else!

4. Tamales

tamale

If you are familiar with Mexican cuisine, you will know that tamales are especially delicious and filling pockets of masa (corn paste) with some meat and other ingredients, wrapped in banana leaf and then cooked. A similar concept is familiar throughout Latin America, but the Cuban version differentiates because the meat is not used as a filling but is evenly distributed in the dough.

5. Cafe con Leche

coffee with milk

I am sorry, this is yet another not-really-chewable item on this list, but it is something one can’t miss because of the Cuban coffee produced. Some of the finest coffee grows in Cuba, and having a great cup of local coffee with milk (hence, Cafe con Leche) would be a must if you are a lover of this dark and delicious liquid.

6. Lechon Asado

crispy lechon being roasted

I think this item is the one where I can emphasize that all types of meats can be called extremely popular food in Cuba because they love feeding their carnivorous cravings. And one of the most prominent meat-centered dishes is Lechon Asado. It is a whole pig roasted in a pit, but what makes it especially delicious is the particular marinade that features sour oranges, cumin, garlic, and oregano. Add some rice or other sides, and you are good to go!

7. Arroz con Pollo

arroz con pollo

On a similar note, another dish that meat lovers will love when visiting Cuba. The ultimate comfort food, a one-pot of yellow rice, chicken, tomato, bell peppers, and a myriad of aromatic spices. You simply can’t go wrong with this one!

8. Picadillo

beef picadillo

Another dish quite commonly available in many Latin American countries has obtained a distinctive face in Cuba. Ground beef with potatoes, onions, garlic, cumin, bell peppers, white wine, tomato sauce, raisins, olives, and many many more delicious ingredients is stewed for a while to form layers of flavors in this heartwarming and filling pot of yumminess.

9. Platillo moros y cristiano

cuban rice

Considering the humble origins, we should definitely mention platillo moros y Cristiano as traditional food in Cuba. The name in translation means the Moors and Christians dish and refers to historical events. It is seasoned black beans cooked with fluffy white rice in the same pot and is one of the most common side dishes.

10. Cucurucho

I couldn’t write this list without ever including a typical dessert. Cucurucho, translated as a “cone”, got its name from the way it is served. A mixture of sugar, coconut, honey, pineapple, or nuts is wrapped in a palm leaf shaped like a cone! And it is important to keep in mind that it is especially popular in Eastern Cuba, in Baracoa. 

How much is food in Cuba?

dollar

Okay, if we are talking about the cost of food in Cuba, I should point out a few things for you to keep in mind. I am not sure if you were aware of this before, but in Cuba, the country operates on two currencies. Namely, CUC (often pronounced kook by locals, it is the same rate as USD) and CUP (the National Peso which is about 0.04 of one CUC or USD). I will not explain the differences and reasons for these two currencies, but the main point is that the former is used to pay for most luxury items and started as a tourist currency. The latter one, though, is used more for daily items. Why is it important to know this when talking about the food prices in Cuba? Because having some CUPs with you might be a real money saver because some stands on the streets might sell food items at a way lower price if you pay in this currency.

So what are the food prices in Cuba? Speaking in general terms - not high. You might find dishes for 0.25 - 1 USD (like, Peso pizzas), or rice and meat for 1.50 USD. A seated meal in a restaurant might cost you from 8 - 15 USD. But then, of course, it is all about your willingness to try more local dishes and concepts of foods. As everywhere, if you opt for dishes that most locals eat, you will be way cheaper! Sources online say that you might even survive on about 8 USD for food per day in Cuba. 

Do you need a visa to travel to Cuba?

Cuba Visa card

And now a small remark on another topic. If you have decided to go there yourself, you might be wondering if you will need a Cuba visa. And unfortunately, you will likely need to get one before arriving at this vibrant destination. Either a visa or a tourist card - some kind of arrangements will have to be made, which is why you should contact the closest embassy or research more online what are the requirements for the nationals of your country.

Now that you know what food do they eat in Cuba, it is way easier to orientate yourself in the universe of Cuban flavor. As vibrant as the culture itself, the cuisine mixes influences, spices, and concepts. But at the heart of it lies a deep love for delicious dishes and special moments with your loved ones. If you are among the lucky ones and travel to Cuba, then try every drop of their hospitality and warmness of heart that translates directly into their dishes. After all, isn’t that the best thing about foreign foods? Besides transporting into another flavor universe, it directly connects with some of the roots and traditions in the particular region. So, with that said, I truly wish you a chance to connect with Cuban culture in some of the most profound ways!