Cuba has some of the best food in the world. A unique blend of African, Spanish, and Caribbean influences. The cuisine of Cuba reflects the island’s rich and dynamic history.
French colonists over from Haiti and enslaved Africans brought their own culinary influences. On an island offering ultra-fresh seafood and sweet fruits straight from the vine, the diverse people of Cuba created flavors all their own.
Let’s dive into Cuban cuisine! Here are the dishes you MUST eat in Cuba.
Arroz con pollo
Chicken and rice is the most common staple in a Cuban household. This one pot dish is similar to Spanish paella. There are many variations of arroz con pollo, but the basics include rice, quartered chicken leg or thighs cooked with sofrito, Bijol seasoning, chicken broth, and beer. Peas and roasted red peppers are also traditionally mixed in.
Considered the national dish of Cuba, ropa vieja literally translates to “old clothes” and comes from Spain. The dish is made with shredded beef that’s slow cooked in a tomato-based sauce with onions, bell peppers, garlic, and cooking wine. It is always served over white rice and accompanied by maduros (sweet plantains) or tostones (fried pressed plantains). A similar dish with a twist is vaca frita, or fried cow, which is a flank steak marinated in mojo and then fried with garlic and salt.
This simple dish is another Cuban classic that’s a perfect weekday meal. It’s ground beef that’s browned with garlic, onions, bell peppers, oregano, bay leaf, and salt. Then, the beef is simmered over low heat with tomato sauce, cooking wine, olives, and raisins. White rice is mixed in once all the flavors combine. The dish comes from Spain, and the name comes from the word picar, which means to chop or mince.
A stew that’s made with a little bit of everything, ajiaco is a recognizable and well-loved Cuban dish. Cooks often throw together what they have on hand to make ajiaco, but common ingredients include corn, sweet potato, malanga, plantains, beef or pork, tomato paste, garlic, onion, and lemon juice
A pastelito is a baked puff pastry filled with something sweet or savory or both. Traditional Cuban fillings include guava and cream cheese, sweet cheese, or ground meat. Like croquetas, pastelitos are usually eaten for breakfast, but can also be a snack
Arroz con lech
Rice pudding, or “rice with milk” is another popular Latin American dessert. But in Cuba, again, evaporated and condensed milk is used, making it a sweeter and richer dish. Lime peel and other traditional ingredients like rice, vanilla, and cinnamon complete a proper Cuban arroz con leche.