Cuba is one of the world’s most desirable Caribbean destinations and given its stunning scenery, gorgeous weather, and delicious cuisine it’s easy to see why. From the black bean to the bell pepper and lime juice, Cuban recipes have something for everyone.
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The culinary tradition of Cuba is a particular highlight that can be hard to match. This is due to the many influences Cuban food is inspired and influenced by, due in large part to its years of colonization, as well as trade with various countries from all over the world.
This has made Cuba a culinary melting pot, where African, Spanish, and Caribbean recipes have been infused to give Cuba one of the most varied and unique culinary traditions in the world.
There are also other noteworthy influences, such as very popular Italian and even Chinese dishes (particularly popular around the Havana area) meaning that some Cuban foods take inspiration from even more unlikely regions.
There are also French influences due to the close proximity of French colonies in neighboring Haiti.
Some of Cuba’s best dishes are world-renowned such as the famed Cubano sandwich however there are also many other delicious and lesser-known dishes that are as delicious.
A lot of Cuban foods also incorporate traditional Cuban and South American ingredients as well as those that are popular with the European nations who left a lasting mark on Caribbean culture.
In this article, we’re going to look at some of Cuba’s best and most popular dishes, touching on their heritage as well as their ingredients and flavor.
Rice and black beans are two of the most popular ingredients in various Cuban and Caribbean recipes and serve as a side to many of the most delicious and popular Cuban dishes.
With that being said, they also serve as a hearty meal of their own when accompanied by a light salad, and add a lot of great nutrients to the meal, as beans are packed with protein while rice is a great source of carbohydrates.
In terms of flavor, rice is obviously a very common starchy food while beans are the real highlight, which often has a creamy texture that is delicious when properly seasoned.
The Cuban sandwich is one of the world’s most popular, with a perfect blend of texture and flavor. The Cubano is often mimicked and recreated worldwide however the best Cubano is of course found on Cuba itself, consisting of a perfect mix of ham, cheese, mustard, pickles, and salsa on lightly toasted traditional Cuban bread.
The result is a sandwich that has a stunningly chewy yet crunchy texture while packing the beautiful flavors of ham, pickle, and mustard. There are few sandwiches that can compare to the Cubano, and it has inspired many spin-offs and imitations due in large part to the popularity of the original recipe.
Also known as Masitas, fried pork dough is a delicious and uniquely Cuban approach to serving pork. One of the main giveaways is the way the meat is marinated.
The marinade itself uses lime which is one of Cuba’s favorite fruits, and is used in many Cuban recipes. The meat is then seasoned to taste with salt and fried until crispy.
The result is delicious mouthfuls of perfectly seasoned meat that have the tinge of lime to add a little extra kick to the juicy meat flavors. Sometimes an alternative marinade is used by replacing the lime with sour orange, for a slightly different flavor.
This is a dish that is very common and often accompanies other dishes, along with servings of mojo sauce and onion to add additional flavor and tenderness to the meat.
Tamales are a very popular food throughout South America because they are based on the most widely available crop grown in this part of the world, corn!
Despite its wide appeal and the various similarities of this dish throughout the continent, each region does have a slightly different approach to the recipe which varies depending on the history and quirks of that particular region.
In Cuba, there are various recipes that lead to differences in the texture of the pastry as well as the flavor and many families pass on their own traditional favorites. However, some of the commonly found recipes range from sweet to well sauced to deliciously seasoned meat fillings and many different styles in between.
The texture of the pastry itself is altered depending on the particular method that is used to prepare it. Some prefer to serve tamales in separate solid servings however it is also possible to serve tamales in a sauce or soup.
Banana is a very popular ingredient in Cuban cuisine and owes its origin to the African cultures that were brought to the Caribbean. This particular dish is very popular among Cubans and is held in high regard despite its relative simplicity in both preparation and ingredients.
A ripe banana is taken and cut into relatively thick slices, then fried in hot oil. After this, the slices are seasoned with salt or other preferred flavorings and then eaten when cool enough.
This is a dish that works well both as a snack or starter served alone, as well as an addition to other traditional Cuban dishes such as rice and fried egg, black beans, and meat dishes.
Rice with fried egg may seem like a simple dish, but this is a key meal and a favorite precisely because of its simplicity and the easy availability of ingredients.
Despite this, it’s a tasty meal that can be made quite easily yet is still delicious, especially when paired with other Cuban staples such as black beans or fried bananas from the recipe above.
The key to making this dish work is not overcooking the egg, as this will make for a dry and unpalatable texture between the rice and egg. Ideally, you want your yoke to remain soft to allow it to moisten the rice and create a more appealing overall texture for the dish.
Fried beef is another simple dish that involves boiling and shredding the meat before marinating it with lime and salt as is common in other Cuban dishes.
Again, lime can be swapped out for orange depending on your preference or availability. The meat is then fried along with some onion and garlic to create a wonderfully fragrant and tasty dish.
Pork steak with onion is a very popular dish and is enjoyed in a very similar manner to beef steaks in other parts of the world.
In Cuba, the steak used in this dish is typically quite thin and juicy and is seasoned with salt as well as garlic, oregano, and onion as well as a host of other traditional options.
Rice is a staple in South American and Caribbean foods, and rice is very often paired with other ingredients to create unique flavors and textures.
This type of meal is particularly popular for large gatherings as it can be easily prepared in large quantities and is easy to portion up, making it a popular choice for family occasions and festivals.
It is a dish that has a lot of similarities with Spanish paella, albeit a little simpler according to some, but no less flavorful and enjoyable.
Yellow rice is often paired with chicken and assorted vegetables. It can be served in varying textures ranging from dry to more stodgy, however, if you serve this dish too moist it may be referred to under a different name, ‘arroz con pollo a la chorrera’.
Banana fufu is a very simple and healthy meal that uses boiled banana and a fried seasoning called Sofrito to create a delicious dough-like paste. This is achieved by mashing the banana up and combining it with the Sofrito to create a consistent texture.
As a vegan choice, this is a fairly unique dish in Cuban cuisine that often incorporates meat or other animal-based ingredients, so this is a dish that anyone can enjoy and can be served on its own or alongside other traditional favorites.
11. Ajiaco Cubano
Ajiaco is a dish that epitomizes the flavors and ingredients that make Cuban cuisine so interesting.
This dish is a broth that is quite thick and incorporates many ingredients including vegetables, ripe banana, yucca, plantain, potato, and pumpkin as well as a classically generous helping of pork as you’d expect from a Cuban dish.
The dish is served piping hot and is a very symbolic dish to Cubans as it represents the fusion of various cultures that shaped the history and existence of Cuba as a nation and people.
The combination of traditional ingredients such as pork, yucca, and plantain alongside aromatics such as garlic and onion make this dish an explosion of rich flavors and textures.
Chicken Fricassee is another meat-heavy dish that is accompanied by rice, seasonings, and a rich tomato sauce.
One of the key elements to a great Fricassee is marination, which typically lasts for hours and uses a blend of onion, garlic, salt, chilies, orange juice, and bay leaves. This packs the chicken with flavor and makes it incredibly tender and moist.
The chicken is then fried lightly in oil or butter and the marinade is added to the pan to further develop the flavors, along with the addition of wine and additional seasonings.
Meat and potatoes are centered on the usage of spices and tomato sauce as well as potato which is cut into small cubes. The meat used in this dish is usually pork or beef served alongside any traditional side from rice to ripe banana and is often served with wine or beer.
This is a dish that works well, at any time of the year due to its simple ingredients.
Being an island, it’s no surprise that seafood like shrimp forms a key part of Cuba’s culinary tradition.
The Enchilado is simple to make, but the spices and tomato sauce are very flavorful and pair well with delicious fresh shrimp. Peppers are often added to increase the flavor further and add texture to the sauce while supporting the sweet notes of the tomato.
Imperial rice is another classic Cuban recipe that relies on rice combined with various other ingredients.
The rice is yellow similar to other Cuban rice dishes and is colored using colorants or sauces which add flavor alongside the textbook yellow tinge.
The rice is mixed with bell peppers, shredded chicken, mayonnaise, and even banana or peas depending on the texture that is desired. Each of these additions is prepared on its own and then brought together at the end meaning that the flavors are strong and well balanced at the point of serving.
Chatino is a very traditional Cuban food that is commonly eaten as an appetizer or snack depending on the context. It is made with banana and unlike a lot of other Cuban dishes that use banana, not all recipes call for a ripe banana. This means that greener, less ripe bananas can be used also.
The dish is prepared by slicing bananas and frying them, then smashing them with a mallet, and then further frying until they are nicely browned. While not essential, many recipes add additional dressings or fillings to add texture and flavor as it is very easy to customize this dish to your own taste.
That being said, it is just as easy to eat toston without any additional ingredients, if you prefer to keep things simple.
Ground beef is more complex than its name implies. Aside from a lovely fresh mix of beef, this dish is cooked low and slow along with several seasonings, tomato sauce, olives, potatoes, and even peppers creating a deliciously tender and moist blend of meat, aromatics, and soft potato.
Any type of meat may be used instead of beef however beef grinds very well which is why it is the default choice.
While its roots lie in Spanish heritage, this dish is very common in Cuba and is eaten weekly by most, alongside beans, rice, or bananas.
The roast pork sandwich is a very popular choice served by street vendors throughout Cuba.
Cuban bread is very soft and is delicious when lightly toasted, which makes it the perfect base for a substantial helping of pulled pork. The addition of pickles and sauces make this an incredibly simple and easy-to-make meal that is perfect for on-the-go tourists who want an authentic taste of Cuban cuisine.
Pork is one of the most, if not the most popular meat in Cuba, and is used in almost every Cuban dish in some capacity.
It’s no surprise that on special occasions and holidays roast pork is eaten as a meal of festivity and celebration. The methods of roasting can vary between regions of Cuba and even different families, meaning that no Cuban roast will ever taste quite the same, and the only things that are essential are a long roast and mojo salsa.
This traditional sauce draws out the meaty flavors of the meat and helps keep it tender, which is one of the secrets that separate this type of roast from other styles of roast meats.
This is a dish that represents Cuba’s Spanish and African heritage far more readily than almost any other food. This is due to its reference to Moors and Christians, the peoples who historically fought for control of Iberia’s lands and culture.
The Moors were an Islamic people hailing from Africa and spread along the barbary coast, while the Christians were the northern peoples of western Europe.
The cultural combination of these peoples in Iberia is represented in this dish by the combination of rice and beans, which is sometimes confused with ‘congri’ , a dish that uses a slightly different type of bean.
This dish combines two of Cuba’s most popular ingredients and can be eaten alone or as a side dish to other meals.
Old Clothes is a world-renowned dish and is thought to be derived from the culture of the Canary Islands, Spanish islands off the coast of North-East Africa.
This dish is comprised of shredded meat which is boiled, cooked in a sauce of peppers, onions, bay leaves, cumin, and other seasonings.
The key to making sure the meat is properly prepared is to boil the meat in a broth, which will add flavor unlike boiling it in water alone. Bean broths are popularly used, however some use alternatives.
22. Yucca con Mojo
Yucca con Mojo is a starter that is very popular at family occasions and festivities due to its simplicity and the high glucose content of Yucca.
Some prefer to make this dish by boiling while others like to boil and then finish by frying the dish to get a slightly different texture. The result is a deliciously sweet and sticky meal.
Flan is a classic Cuban dessert and probably one of the most well-known.
Typically flan is made using various types of milk as well as sugar and egg. The syrup is sometimes difficult to get right but adds a wonderful flavor and this can be further developed by adding pineapple, coconut, rum, or cinnamon which are all popular in Cuba.
This is a very popular recipe as it is easy to make and uses readily available ingredients.
All you need to make this dish is rice, milk, sugar, and cinnamon. The texture of the dish is sticky and moist and is very aromatic and sweet thanks to the cinnamon.
Guava is one of the most iconic Caribbean fruits and is much sought after for its juiciness and rich flavors.
Guava is often used to make syrups and to augment other desert dishes, however it's perfectly reasonable to enjoy the fruit as nature intended.
Normally the seeds are scooped out of the fruit first, allowing you to enjoy the sweet and plump flesh. It is possible to eat the seeds but some find them tough and unpleasant.
It's also possible to cook Guava for a short time to soften the flesh further. This is often accompanied by cheese to help enrich the flavor and texture of the fruit.