A JOURNEY TO HAVANA THROUGH FOOD
Photos by Anne Marie Hamant and Wes Frazer
It wasn’t all that long ago that Americans could only dream of exploring Cuba. The island holds a sort of mystique, remaining untainted by corporations like Starbucks and McDonalds. Walking the streets is like stepping back in time, out of a culture of consumerism and into one of making things last—cars, buildings, and clothing alike. There are beautiful beaches, famous Cuban cigars, and incredible food.
Cuba’s food identity comes from a combination of factors—the island’s location, the beautiful tropical climate, and the people who settled there. Cuba was an important trading location for early settlers, so many immigrants from all over the world passed through. As a result, the food has many influences—mainly a combination of Spanish, African, and Caribbean cuisines.
The Cuban climate creates a strong agricultural biodiversity. Potatoes, rice, sugar, and coffee are all grown there. There’s also a plethora of tropical fruits, including pineapple, plantains, mango, avocado, coconut, and guava. The guava fruit is particularly popular in Cuba, and is a staple in a favorite snack—guayaba y queso. When European baking techniques met Cuban flavors, the popular guava and cheese pastelito was born.
One of the most well known Cuban foods in the United States is the Cuban Sandwich. Often called Mixto in Cuba, the sandwich we know today is a result of the Cuban factory workers relocating to Miami and Tampa during the tobacco industry boom. The workers made the sandwiches for a cheap lunch, and it grew to become a popular item across the United States.
While the story has never been confirmed, the Hemingway Daiquiri also has Cuban roots. According to the story, Hemingway was looking for a bathroom when he popped into the bar, El Floridita. He watched the bartender mix a batch of frozen daiquiris, then picked up one of the drinks and tried it. Legend says he told the bartender, “That’s good, but I’d prefer it without the sugar…and double the rum,” and the Hemingway Daiquiri got its name.
Though you might not be ready to travel again, that doesn’t mean you need to stop exploring. One of our favorite ways to do that is through food—so press pause on booking a ticket, and instead start writing your grocery store list. With these recipes, we’re bringing Cuba to you!
Classic Cuban Sandwich
(For single sandwich, adjust for desired servings)
⅓ Loaf cuban bread
2 tablespoons mustard
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
Pinch of cayenne pepper
4 slices swiss cheese
3 thin slices fully-cooked ham
½ large dill pickle, sliced thinly length wise
1 tablespoon of butter
For the Pork (cooked in a pressure cooker):
1 lb boneless pork shoulder
Salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, gently smashed
¼ teaspoon red chili flakes
1 medium onion, sliced
1 cup fresh orange juice
1 lime, juiced
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
To prepare the pork:
Tie pork shoulder in four places with kitchen twine so it will hold shape while cooking. Season the pork with salt, pepper, cumin, and oregano. Set the base of the pressure cooker over low-medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. As the oil heats up, add the garlic and chili flakes and cook until fragrant. Add pork to the pressure cooker. Add onions and brown slightly before adding orange juice, lime juice, stock, and bay leaves. Secure lid of pressure cooker and cook for 20-25 minutes. The pork should be tender when done.
To prepare the sandwich:
Mix mayo, mustard, and cayenne together in a bowl to create the sauce. Spread sauce on top and bottom halves of the Cuban bread. Layer on the sandwich in this order: 2 slices swiss cheese, 3 slices of ham, cooked pork, pickle slices, and 2 more slices of swiss cheese. Place top on the sandwich. If you don’t have a sandwich press you can melt butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Place the sandwich in the skillet and press down with a heavy weight (you can use another skillet or a foil wrapped brick). Toast until bread is crisp and filling is heated, around 3 to 4 minutes per side. Repeat for any additional sandwich.