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“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.
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.
The Best Cuban Recipes
1. Cuban Coffee
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 which is 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!
Cuban toast, ham croquettes, and pastelitos de guayaba y queso are usually part of a Cuban breakfast but they can also be enjoyed any time of day. Ham croquettes are crispy, bite-size logs of smooth ground ham coated in breadcrumbs. They are my favorite thing ever!
Pastelitos de guayaba are sweet, tart Cuban pastries made with pastry dough, guava paste, and cream cheese. They are super easy-to-make and you can enjoy them with or without cream cheese. Either way, they’re delicious!
A house party for a Hispanic family in Miami is usually not complete unless it has arroz imperial, 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). Arroz Imperial is a crowd favorite and a classic Cuban comfort food dish made with layers of yellow rice, shredded chicken, mayonnaise, and melted cheese.
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. This lechon asado recipe is for roast pork in the oven. You gotta try it!
Arroz con pollo is a classic, one-pot Cuban-style dish made with chicken, rice, tomato sauce, bell peppers, and spices. It’s the best comfort food!
Arroz con leche is an easy-to-make and deliciously creamy rice pudding recipe made Cuban-style with sweetened condensed milk, cinnamon, and lemon zest. The best dessert!
Cuban picadillo is a ground beef dish made with tomato sauce, spices, olives, and raisins and, it’s the perfect weeknight meal made in one skillet! Every week, I make picadillo and never get tired of it. It’s SO good!
Yuca (pronounced you-ca), also known as cassava root, is a starchy root vegetable that you often find in Latin American or Caribbean cuisine. I made yuca Cuban-style with a simple homemade garlic mojo and sautéed onions. It’s honestly the most flavorful side dish you’ll ever make!
Cuban black beans are another huge staple in Cuban cuisine. They’re made with sofrito (garlic, green peppers, onion mixture) and spices then cooked until silky perfection. It’s the most flavorful side dish and it’s usually paired with white rice.
11. Ropa Vieja
Ropa vieja (which translates to “old clothes” ha!) is shredded beef slow cooked in a hearty, flavorful tomato sauce. It’s the best Cuban cozy meal made with shredded flank steak, bell peppers, and onions.
Camarones enchilados (aka Cuban shrimp creole) is a classic dish made with shrimp in a deliciously saucy and fragrant tomato sauce served over white rice. It’s a pretty quick meal to make!
Questions about Cuban Food
A typical Cuban dinner consists of rice and beans with a protein (meat, chicken, fish). Black beans and rice is called moros when they are cooked together while white rice and black beans cooked separately is called arroz con frijoles.
A traditional Cuban breakfast consists of Cuban toast (toasted Cuban bread) dunked in café con leche (coffee with steamed milk). Sometimes ham croquettes and pastelitos (beef + guava) make an appearance.
The Cuban national drink is called the Cuba Libre and it is a rum and coke with a twist of lime. Cuba Libra translates to “Free Cuba” which was the slogan for Cuban independence movement.
Unlike Mexican cuisine, Cuban food is not spicy because it’s a mix of Spanish, African, and other Caribbean cuisines. Chilies are not even grown in Cuba which is why ‘heat’ has never really been a key ingredient in Cuban cuisine. Cuban food is not bland though. All Cuban recipes are well seasoned and, as a result, they taste more savory than spicy Mexican food.
What is your favorite Cuban recipe? Tell me in the comments below! :)