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Cuban Cuisine Unveiled: 12 Culinary Masterpieces to Savor

Cuban food is an excellent mixture of Native American Taino, African, Spanish and Caribbean foods. It also includes a hint of Haitian, French, and Chinese ingredients. Cuban food enjoyed in five-star Cuban restaurants came from inexperienced youngsters who experimented with traditional Cuban cuisine and international styles.

Since Cuba is an island, seafood is something that is seen in a lot of Cuban food. Cuban seafood-related foods include paella, paella de Mariscos, and Camarones Enchilados.

Additionally, thanks to Cuba’s tropical climate, Cuban cuisine is often filled with fruits and vegetables. Other than their widespread use of bananas, guavas are also a delicacy. Guavas are sought after for their juiciness and are used to make syrups that go well with other desserts. Normally, you eat guavas without seeds since they can be tough and unpleasant. You can also cook guavas for a short time and accompany them with cheese – this Cuban food is often consumed as a dessert.

While this article is centrally based on the 12 most delicious dishes in Cuban cuisine, it is important to know a bit about the main ingredients used in Cuban food. Let’s discuss that before moving on to the best Cuban dishes.

1) Things To Know About Cuban Food

Rice and black beans are the primary ingredients used in Cuban food. It is also important to mention that since different parts of Cuba were colonized by different countries, each section of Cuba often had a different influence. For example, Cuba’s African and Caribbean heritage can be seen in its use of honey, chocolate, and annatto seeds. Havana was one of the most important trading ports Cuba had. The Spanish people brought pigs, cattle, and spices as they began to colonize it. Hence, many Cuban recipes have their origin in Andalucía.

As mentioned before, the tropical climate of Cuba blesses it with various fruits and roots; malanga, bananas, potatoes, yucca, and plantain are used in many Cuban dishes. Rice, first brought to Cuba by the Chinese colonizers, is now a staple food of Cuban cuisine. Cuban food is also meat-centric, so a major chunk of Cuban cuisine is non-vegetarian. But there are also many options for vegetarians who can rely on tropical produce like plantains and guava.

cuban food
Photo by Any Lane: Pexels/Copyright 2020

Additionally, each name in the history of Cuba has contributed to the type of dishes cooked here. Since Spain colonized Cuba, the influence of Spain on Cuban cuisine has been very evident. This is the same reason for the French influence.

From the Tainos comes corn, yuca, sweet potatoes, a lot of seafood and plentiful fruits. Spanish colonialists brought cattle, pigs, and the Andalucian tradition of frying foods. The root vegetable malanga, quimbombó (okra), green and sweet plantains, and the practice of eating rice mixed with other foods and sauces come from the Africans.

Surprisingly, despite having influences from so many other places, Cuban food is not spicy. Salt, cumin, paprika, and bay leaves are all spices used in Cuban recipes. However, Cuban foods are always organic. This is because of the fall of the Soviet Union, which forced Cuba to become self-sufficient agriculturally.

While this upcoming list may be full of savoury dishes, Cuba doesn’t fall behind on its desserts. Cuba has amazing desserts other than their traditional rice pudding. They also have delicious flans and great-tasting turrones, which are sweetened grapefruit peel.

Since Cuban food relies heavily on a mentality of being healthy and eating nutritious meals

There’s an endless variety of Cuban dishes that portray Cuban culture well. So limiting this list to 12 doesn’t do justice to Cuban cuisine, but it still gives you an idea of what kind of savoury treats Cuban cuisine can provide you.

2) 12 Most Delicious Cuban Food To Die For

Knowing that Cuban food has so many origins and complicated history, a lot of their traditional food may sound difficult to cook at home. But that isn’t the case. Much traditional Cuban food can be made at home using simple ingredients, and many of the dishes mentioned here will be easy to make. So if you want a taste of Cuban cuisine, give it a go!

2.1) Ropa Vieja

Ropa Vieja is the national dish of Cuba with a great history behind it. This dish tells the story of Cuban culture and its evolution. Ropa vieja started life in Spain, and its name translates to ‘old clothes.’ The story goes that a penniless older man once shredded and cooked his clothes because he couldn’t afford food for his family. He prayed over the fire for a miracle to occur and turned the mixture into a rich meat stew, and this miracle did happen! Even though we don’t know how true this story is, it is wonderful to hear about it!

The recipe for ropa vieja is over 500 years old and started with Sephardic Jews in Spain’s Iberian peninsula. They would slow-cook the stew the night before. ‘Ropa Vieja is a very popular Cuban dish and is loved by many in Cuban restaurants. The reason it’s called ‘ropa vieja’ is because the shredded beef and vegetables look like a heap of colourful clothes. Cuban people love it that it is considered the country’s national dish.

Ropa vieja dates back to the Spanish Sephardi, a popular dish in Spain. It was initially seen as a way to make the most use of leftovers, like puchero or cocida, and then, ropa vieja was taken back to Cuba, where Cubans made it their own dish. The dish consists of shredded beef and tomatoes, added with zesty bell peppers, caramelized onions, and traditional ingredients and spices. It’s a tasty dish that is simple to make and fun to eat! Ropa vieja is often served with rice and black or yellow beans and tastes better the next day since the flavours meld more.

Ropa vieja
By: Elena Veselova/Shutterstock

2.2) Arroz Con Pollo

Arroz con Pollo or chicken with rice is a popular Cuban recipe with its roots in Spain. Arroz con pollo dates back to the eighth century when the Moors influenced Spain’s eating habits and how they imported and exported goods.

Regarding traditional Cuban dishes, Arroz con pollo is a Cuban recipe that is very easy and quick to make. It is commonly found in Latin America, but the Cuban version is much more popular. This traditional dish consists of shredded chicken and yellow rice. It is similar to paella but doesn’t have fish, and you can decide how you want it – solid or soupy. It includes tomato, garlic, and rice and can also be made a la vaca frita or just on the grill.

In the Puerto Rican version, the rice is made bright yellow by the same spice used to give cheddar its colour. It gets earthly notes from the puree of cilantro, yellow onions, green bell peppers, and garlic; this puree is called recaito (aka sofrito). Pigeon peas are sometimes used instead of Spanish olives, but frozen peas are an easy substitute.

2.3) Arroz Con Leche

Arroz con Leche is amongst the oldest desserts in Spain. Arroz con Leche is prepared all over Spain, with the basic ingredients of rice, milk, sugar, and lemon or orange peel. You can also find this dessert in Spain, Peru, and Costa Rica. In other countries, twists will be made to the desert to make it more flavorful, like, in Northern Europe, it’s eaten as a warm meal. The origin of this dessert can be traced back to the Muslim world. It was imported into Spain when the Muslims conquered the South of the Iberian Peninsula.

Arroz con Leche is a commonly eaten dessert across Latin cultures but is most enjoyed in Cuban culture for special occasions, as a dessert after a healthy dinner. This dessert is a rice pudding with white rice, cinnamon, and milk.

People often mistake Arroz con Leche for being American rice pudding, but there is a difference. American rice pudding uses leftover rice, but Arroz con Leche or the Mexican rice pudding, is made with raw rice. Adding lemon zest can create a new spark to the tasty rice cake.

This creamy dish consists of simple pantry ingredients but is impressive to serve guests as it is the pinnacle of comfort food and works both ways, hot or cold.

2.4) Cuban Sandwich

Cuban Sandwiches
By: Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

The list of Cuban food would be incomplete without the Cuban sandwich. This ham, port, cheese, pickles, and mustard sandwich on Cuban bread is a traditional Cuban version of the panini. It is the perfect Cuban dish for lunch and is a great order at a Cuban restaurant. Many add mojo sauce to their sandwich for an extra delicious lunch. Roast pork with ham, Swiss cheese, and yellow mustard is a great combo and can often be addictive.

This sandwich has a great history behind it; it was first a fish-based rendition originated by the Taino tribe at least 500 years ago. Many external influences transformed it into the Cuban sandwich, which is thoroughly enjoyed today. Cuban immigrants made a different version and named it after their country to explain its distinction from the Taino sandwich. It is said that the first sandwich was made by the Taino tribe, who inhabited the island before the Europeans. The Tainos used casabe bread made from yucca, and instead of pork, they used fish and bird meat.

For the sandwich to be perfect, Cuban bread is the best ingredient – it is made of yeast and lard and produces a crispy exterior and light interior. Normally wrapped with a cabbage leaf during baking, it has an extra flavour and crisp; as for the filling, the basics of smoked ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, mustard, and three pickles are used.

2.5) Pernil Relleno De Moros

Roast pork shoulder is a very tender, succulent dish commonly seen in Cuban restaurants. It reminds many Cubans of Christmas since it is usually cooked on Christmas Eve. Pernil (pork shoulder) is commonly paired with white rice, black beans, carrots, and potatoes. It is known for the leftover broth, which adds more flavour to the white rice and beans.

The pork shoulder is used as a whole piece and is marinated the day prior with salt, pepper, oregano, and sofrito. The sofrito is placed within the meat using small cuts. After marination, the meat is roasted in the oven for many hours and then at a higher temperature to make the skin crispy. When finished, the meat slides off the bone, and the crispy skin is served separately as ‘skin chips’ or ‘cueritos.’

2.6) Moros Y Christianos

Moros y Christianos translates to Moors and Christians; Moros is the black beans, and Christianos is the white rice, mostly referred to as the Christian rice. This refers to the African governance and subsequent Reconquista, where Spanish Christians forced the Moors out of Spain and into Africa.

The commonly used ingredients in this Cuban dish are bell peppers, onions, and garlic; this is added to white rice and black beans. Oregano and bay leaf are used for additional flavour and a pinch of lime juice. This dish is different from Arroz con frijoles since the rice and beans are cooked in the same pot and not separately. Another term for this dish is Congri. But it is commonly used to refer to a similar dish with red beans instead of black beans.

Moros y Cristianos
By: Fanfo/Shutterstock

2.7) Masitas/Chicharron

A juicy plate of Masitas is excellent for pork lovers! These crispy chunks of pork are tender inside and crunchy outside; they are commonly used as snacks at Cuban restaurants and bakeries. Adding a spoonful of lime juice to the dish gives it abundant flavour! At times, people love having these with tomato sauce.

While Chicharrones are usually made from cuts of pork, they can also be made using mutton and chicken. In some places, they are made from pork ribs with the skin attached and other cuts rather than the rinds.

2.8) Plátano Maduro Frito (Fried Sweet Plantains)

Due to Cuba’s African heritage, fried plantains are a significant part of Cuban culture and local foods. They can be found as a side dish in your regular meals. Making the dish is simple: slice and fry the plantains and add some salt to the sliced pieces of fried plantains.

For this dish to be crispy and sweet, it is best to use ripe plantains when the skin has blackened a bit since they are sweet. Using other plantains which don’t fit this description could make the slices mushy and oily.

A really simple dish involving less than five ingredients and as few as six steps, this is a favourite traditional Cuban food for youngsters who pair fried plantains with Cuban coffee.

2.9) Arroz Con Huevo Frito (Rice And Fried Egg)

Arroz con huevo frito is white rice with fried eggs. This dish seems very simple compared to the other complex dishes mentioned, but that doesn’t make it any less popular. This dish is criticized for its simplicity, and people think of it as a meal eaten by low-income families. However, this isn’t true – all Cubans love this traditional, simple meal.

It is a typical Cuban dish used commonly during lunchtime and is something you’d find at a Cuban friend’s house on a busy night or before payday. This simple dish consists of an egg cooked in oil or butter until the yolk is soft, but the whites are cooked. This fried egg is sprinkled with salt and pepper and served over white rice.

This rice and fried eggs dish is delicious, but you can always add a side dish for more flavour; popular sides include fried plantains, French fries, or yuca fries. You can also add bananas and bread, specifically Cuban bread.

2.10) Picadillo

This dish is a famous traditional Cuban food made of ground beef, potatoes, olives, and string beans. Over the years, it has been modernized by adding raisins. Picadillo can be enjoyed along with white rice and beans and can also be found in Cuban bakeries and a Cuban sandwich. Recent additions by the Cuban-American people pair it with fried plantains and wrap it along with beef.

Although Picadillo was common in Hispanic cultures, a 19th-century recipe from California has a few similarities to ‘pasteles a la argentina’ – a filled pastry with layers of beef and chicken. Picadillo was initially made of minced fowl and white sauce. It was termed ‘picadillo de ave,’ and another version was the pasteles de pollos y pichones, a savoury pie with chicken and squab minced veal, bacon, and ham.

2.11) Arroz Imperial (Imperial Rice)

When people read the term ‘imperial,’ the first thought that comes to their mind is ‘royalty.’ Arroz Imperial is no less than a meal showing the legacy of Cuban food and the various influences which once governed Cuban culture.

Cuban dishes are often combined with rice and other items; imperial rice is different. Arroz Imperial combines multiple dishes; the rice is cooked with traditional tomato sauce, making it yellow. Before serving the rice, it is mixed with a set of chilli peppers, fried bananas, cheese, and shredded chicken.

Often called Cuban lasagna, this baked dish consists of yellow rice, diced ham, shredded chicken, and layered cheese stewed with tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. In a Cuban restaurant, almost every second table will have this Cuban dish on it.

There seems to be no certain point of origin for Arroz imperial. There is also some doubt whether it’s truly Cuban or a hybrid of Cuban and American food brought into existence by Cuban immigrants residing in Miami. A common theory, however, states that it is a casserole version of the Cuban dish, ‘Arroz con Pollo.’

2.12) Lechon Asado

Pork Leg
By: Wizard of the light Photography/Shutterstock

Lechon Asado is a Cuban dish that uses roast pork. It is made by roasting pork in a sour orange and garlic mojo marinade. It is a delicious, easy-to-make dish and is useful for making great sandwiches.

Lechon Asado means roast pork with variations in flavourings. ‘Lechon’ means young pig in Spanish; older pigs are also used because of the Hispanic influence. In Cuban cuisine, ‘Lechon Asado’ is pork marinated in mojo marinade.

The marinade has sour orange juice as its base and garlic, oregano, and cumin as a seasoning. Like other Cuban dishes, this dish is normally used for Christmas and weddings.

3) Takeaways

Cuban culture is an amazing amalgamation of many attractions, and its food is certainly one of them. A simple Cuban sandwich and a delicious creamy flan are just the beginning of the massive iceberg of the variety found in Cuban cuisine. What makes Cuban recipes homely is that they haven’t been reconstructed or changed and are often served in their original style. Rather than eating rice served beside chicken, you get to enjoy the classic Arroz de Pollo without any changes, and while some may find that boring, Cubans enjoy it relentlessly.

At the center of Cuban food is a well-balanced taste that steers away from extremes and evokes the nature of Cuban people. A good Cuban dish is as charming as Cuban music, dance, and nature. Cuban food thrives on this diverse culture with influences from Spain, Africa, and the Caribbean. This mixture of flavours is the epitome of Cuban food.

Cuban food may be less spicy and more organic, it may focus more on fruits and meats rather than vegetables, but that doesn’t make it any less delicious. Cuban food is one of the healthiest types of cuisine out there, which reminds you of home by using simple ingredients but leaving a lasting touch in your heart.

Last Updated on by ayeshayusuf


  • SarahFerns28

    I am 20 years old, I reside in Mumbai, India and am currently pursuing my MSc in Counseling Psychology. I love to read and write. I have published my own book and have been published in various anthologies. My pronouns are she/her.

  1. Cuban cuisines are food for there sea food. For a sea food lover cuban food is heaven and it’s worth trying. Cuban food are known for low spices and organic ingredients. Your article have detailed overview of cuban food which is fascinating to read.

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