“But isn’t Cuban food the same as Mexican cuisine?”
*insert shocked face here*
When someone said that to me, I almost passed out.
SAY WHAT! No, not all Latin cooking equals tacos and burritos. No, not all Latin food is Mexican.
There are so many types of Latin cooking cuisines — Puertorican, Dominican, Peruvian, Colombian, Argentinean… I mean the list goes on and on. I love all types of Latin food. They all bring a different flavor element that makes it unique to their culture. And that’s honestly my favorite part about it.
With all this in mind, however, I wanted to specifically share all about Cuban cuisine (the epitome of comfort food!). Unless you live in (or have lived in) South Florida or were born in Cuba or from a Cuban family (like me!), you don’t really KNOW about its amazingness and why it’s truly so delicious. So let’s get right into it!
What is Cuban Food?
Cuban food is like a rich, hearty melting pot of Spanish, African, and other Caribbean cuisines. A majority of recipes are slow-cooked, sautéed and/or tomato-based with spices like cumin, oregano, and bay leaves. A lot of the measurements are not even necessary. My mom, for example, cooks with “un poquito” (a little bit) and just tastes as she goes along.
Most Cuban dishes start with something called sofrito. Not to be confused sofritas in Mexican cuisine. Cuban sofrito is the basis of most Cuban dishes. Some call it the “Holy Trinity”. It consists of garlic, onions, and green peppers with spices and olive oil. You sauté the sofrito in a skillet before continuing with the rest of your recipe and that’s what gives meals such a unique and distinctive flavor!
Meat and poultry are usually marinated in mojo marinade which is a citrus blend of sour orange and lime juice with spices. Seafood is common but not as popular as pork. And vegetables well… there are some but they are primarily plantains (tostones + sweet plantains!) and root vegetables like yuca, malanga, and potatoes. You’ll never see broccoli in Cuban cuisine. Ha!
You’ll also see that white rice is the largest staple in Cuban cuisine. Some say it’s because of China’s influence from the early years before the Cuban revolution. White rice is usually mixed with black beans to make rice + beans or congri (moros y cristianos). Another Chinese influence is la caja china (the Chinese box) which is a large box, sometimes made of wood, commonly used to make tender, slow-roasted pork during the holidays.
Cuban coffee aka cafecito is a strong dark roasted espresso made with a vigorously mixed sugar foam affectionately called espumita. This ain’t no Starbucks drink. This is a very strong, potent, bitter-tasting coffee which is why it’s accompanied by a sugar foam to sweeten the deal. It’s delicious and anyone that has tried it… you get it.
Cuban coffee is a huge part of our culture. We make it after every meal. We order it at Cuban restaurants for dessert. Heck, we even buy it to share. A Cuban colada is a 4-ounce Cuban espresso served in a styrofoam cup with little mini plastic cups meant for sharing. It’s very common in Miami when you’re, let’s say, going to the nail salon to bring una colada to share with everyone. It brings strangers together.
There’s also cafe con leche which is made up of unsweetened Cuban espresso mixed with steamed whole milk. Typically, cafe con leche is served at breakfast along with buttered Cuban toast which most of us dip in our café. Yum!
Other Cuban Traditions
A house party for a Hispanic family in Miami is usually not complete unless it has a tray of mini croquettes, pastelitos (Cuban pastries), and bocaditos (mini sweet bread sandwiches with a ground ham & cream cheese spread – trust me, it’s more delicious than it sounds).
During the holidays, you’ll usually see a Cuban household make roasted pork in the backyard in la caja china. Like the whole pig. My family wakes up at 4-5 am on Christmas Eve to go pick up said pig and then slow cooks it for 8-10 hours after marinating it with mojo, garlic, and spices. I’m sure you can imagine how delicious that must taste.
A few Cuban Staples & Recipes
Every Cuban family has their own recipes, variations of classics and their own traditions, here are a few of my favorites!
- Cuban-Style Black Beans (Frijoles Negros)
- Arroz Con Pollo (Cuban-style Rice with Chicken)
- Cuban-Style Beef Stew (Ropa Vieja)
- Arroz Con Salchicha (Cuban-Style Yellow Rice + Sausage)
- Cuban Mojo Marinade Recipe
- Vaca Frita (Crispy Cuban Shredded Beef!)
- Cuban-Style Shrimp Creole (The BEST Shrimp Recipe!)
- Cuban-Style Crispy Shredded Chicken (Vaca Frita de Pollo)
- Arroz Con Leche (Rice Pudding)
- Cuban Shortbread Cookies (Torticas de Moron)
I want to hear from you! What are some of your traditions or favorite recipes? Leave them below! :)