Cuba is a small country with a big culinary tradition. As food experts point out, Cuban cuisine starts with a Spanish-influenced base and adds ingredients from other cultures. The foundation of Cuban food is meat seasoned with garlic and onion. Cooks also use beans, rice, and vegetables specific to Cuba, such as cassava and plantains. Tomatoes also make their way into the dishes.
Since it's such an eclectic cuisine, Cuban food appeals to a broad spectrum of diners. Below are five Cuban dishes you should try as soon as possible.
1. Ropa Vieja
Ropa vieja is the quintessential Cuban dish. The base is beef, which cooks braise slowly so they can shred the meat. They braise the meat in a combination of the classic Cuban flavors—garlic and onion in a sauce of tomatoes and wine. White rice and black beans usually accompany the dish. Restaurants tend to serve sweet plantains, too.
2. Arroz con Pollo
Arroz con pollo is another classic Cuban dish. Its foundation is chicken and rice. Arroz con pollo is another braised dish. The liquid for this one-pot meal comes from tomato sauce and chicken stock. Cooks usually use cumin, oregano, and bay leaf to flavor the dish. Garlic and onion, as well as bell pepper, make their way into the pot, too. Arroz con pollo serves as a good standalone meal.
Picadillo is one of the dishes that shows influence from other cultures. The base is usually ground beef, but some cooks like chorizo and ground pork. The sauce consists of tomatoes and white wine. Garlic and onions feature in this dish, too. However, the foreign influence comes in the use of Spanish olives and raisins. Rice and black beans are the usual partners for picadillo.
Another dish with foreign roots is boliche, which is essentially a stuffed pot roast. The dish shows both Spanish and African roots. Cooks stuff the pot roast with chorizo and olives spiced with cumin and oregano. Boliche is meat braised in a liquid consisting of orange juice, lime juice, and tomatoes. Cooks use cilantro, onions, and garlic for flavoring. Plantains make a good side dish.
5. Cassava con Mojo
If you're curious about cassava, which is yuca, look into a side dish with the traditional mojo sauce. The foundation of the sauce is juice, always lime and sometimes orange, too. When cooks make mojo for cassava, they usually go heavy on the garlic and onion. Cassava has a consistency similar to potatoes, making this side dish a hearty one.
Visit your local Cuban restaurant to try one of the above Cuban dishes.