Ropa Vieja (Shredded Beef)

Cuban cuisine

is a combination of different cultures, although in its varied dishes, it has a blend of Spanish, African and Caribbean cuisines, in the preparation and spices. It also has some little, but significant Chinese influence, which can be found in some areas in Havana. Cuban food is greatly influenced by Indigenous, African, Portuguese, Chinese, Arabic and different Spanish regions.

During the colonial period, Havana was a very important trading port, with many passing immigrants from Spain, especially, from the Southern part of Spain, such as Andalucía, and even other places, such as Asturias. Many Cuban dishes have their roots, in Andalucía, Spain.

Cuban cuisine is unique and different from other cultures. Travelers and visitors from other parts of the world have sometimes associated Cuban cuisine with for example, Mexican cuisine. Although we share some Spanish traditions, Mexican food is a combination of Spanish and Aztec foods and traditions, while Cuban cuisine has been heavily influenced by the distinctive history of the Caribbean and their ancient travelers.

By tradition, Cubans are not used to measure all ingredients when cooking (except for desserts). They like to add more or less certain amount of spices to their recipes, according to taste or preferences. However, all meals, whether with more or less spices, have the distinctive seasoning and signature of the Cuban taste.  A traditional Cuban meal consists primarily of rice and beans, which is a typical criollo dish, but its preparation and technique varies with the region.  When rice and beans are cooked together, it is called: “Arroz Moro”, “Arroz Congrí”, or simply “Congrí. When they are cooked separately, it is called “Arroz y/con Frijoles” (Rice and/with Beans).

The typical Cuban main course would consist mainly of pork, beef, or chicken, accompanied by grains (especially rice) or “viandas” (some sort of vegetables). This word “vianda” is not the same as the French word: viande, which means “meat”. The Cuban word “vianda”, incorporates different types of tubers, such as boniato (yam or white sweet potato), yucca (cassava), potato, and malanga (taro), as well as plantains (ripe and unripe), and corn. An additional popular side dish is salad, which usually is simply composed of lettuce, tomatoes and avocado, but may also have carrots, cucumber, radish, cabbage, and even beets.

Cuban food tends to be highly seasoned with what is called “sofrito”, a combination of different spices to make a traditional base sauce for many recipes. The “sofrito” may include tomato, garlic, onion, cumin, oregano, parsley and olive oil, although the list of the ingredients varies with dishes and recipes.

Cuban cuisine has been changing with the years. Still influenced by different cultures, Cuban cuisine is unique and delicious in its own particular way. Many have preserved the use of its traditional ingredients and the way to prepare their varied dishes, wherever they are in the world, while others have added their own touch and cultural background and reference, but still keeping the unique and distinctive flavor of the traditional Cuban cuisine.