10 Traditional Cuban Dishes That Will Make Your Mouth Water
What are some traditional Cuban dishes? How to choose?
Being such a diverse island, Cuba has a cuisine full of flavors, textures, and colors. Cuba also shares common ingredients and dishes that are traditional to other parts of Latin America—however, Cubans give their own twist to them!
Today we will learn about the best traditional Cuban dishes you can try the next time you get there, some facts about them, and why you should try them.
I have also added some recipes so you can try to do them at home too!
Traditional Cuban Dishes
Do you know that food is an important part of our identity and heritage?
As a Guatemalan woman, I am amazed by how we still eat dishes that our Mayan ancestors ate hundreds of years ago. It is also surprising to me how much we can understand about a whole other culture by trying their food! How many stories are connected by a single dish.
Cuban cuisine is an exquisite mix of different cultures. In it you can find Latin American tastes, but also African and Caribbean. You can find a fusion of cultures and flavors that work so well that are something you can only try in Cuba.
This traditional Cuban dishes list is divided in three sections:
- Appetizers- boquitas o pica-pica
- Main dishes– platos fuertes
- Desserts– postres
Appetizers (Boquitas o pica-pica)
This section is about all those delicious foods that you can eat by itself as a snack in the middle of the day, or before eating the main dish. They are delicious, but aren’t as hearty enough to be a dish on their own.
1. (Chicharritas o Tostones)
Platanos fritos (fried plantains) are a staple in several countries in Latin America. Sweet and delicious, you can eat them any time of the day!
But los tostones are a twist to that perfect recipe! Instead of sweet and soft, think salty and fried. Perfect to eat while you wait for the main dish or to enjoy on a lazy afternoon with some guacamol or pico de gallo.
The secret to tostones is that they are prepared with green plantain, or plátano macho, instead of ripe plantain. And las abuelitas (grandmothers) can assure you that for them to be perfectly crispy, you have to double fry them.
This is one of the easiest traditional Cuban recipes you can do at home, and introduce yourself to Cuban cuisine.
2. Cassava and Mojo (Yuca con mojo)
One of the most iconic traditional Cuban dishes, la yuca con mojo is a dish that you can eat as a snack, as a side for roast pork, or just because you want to eat it!
As my mom explained to me when I was little, la yuca (cassava root, yucca) is the “cousin” of the potatoes. This means that you can expect almost the same consistency, flavor, and versatility as a potato.
This is one of the best, and easiest to find, Cuban foods you can try on the island. It is also really easy to make at home!
If you really want to enjoy this dish, small servings are perfect to do it. This way you won’t be overwhelmed by how hearty this mix of flavors and consistencies can be!
Also, you can try this dish in two versions: with yuca frita (fried cassava) and yuca cocida (boiled cassava). Both versions are delicious, and I can assure you, this is a dish you won’t forget!
Main Dishes (Platos fuertes)
Now that we are hungry after those appetizers, it is time for the main course!
This section includes some of the most popular traditional Cuban main dishes that you can try in the island.
Here you can find some traditional Cuban meat dishes and some of the most popular traditional Cuban rice dishes to add to your list of must-try during your visit!
3. Old Clothes (Ropa vieja)
Ropa Vieja is probably one of the most recognized traditional Cuban dishes in all the world.
Is a favorite for Cubans and tourists, not only because it is so easy to prepare but because of how delicious it is. Perfect for any occasion! Experts believe that la ropa vieja (old clothes) is a dish that came from the Canary Islands, in Spain, because of the ingredients it is made with.
This delicious and easy dish is made with boiled and minced pork or beef, accompanied by a stew made with onion, pepper, laurel leaves, cummin, and other species. Because the meat is desmenuzada (pulled), it looks like old clothes.
If you are interested in trying to cook this dish, you can follow this easy recipe!
4. Fried Cow (Vaca frita)
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself drooling a little when learning all about one of the most mouthwatering traditional Cuban dishes: la vaca frita.
To prepare this delicious dish you just need skirt steak, fresh herbs, spices, onions, and peppers! The secret of this dish is to braise the meat until tender and then fry it to perfection with all the other ingredients. You can eat it with rice, beans, bread, and fried plantains.
It is really similar to ropa vieja, but this dish doesn’t need recado, or stew, unlike ropa vieja.
This dish is so easy to prepare that you can follow this recipe in Spanish while cooking it and practice your fluency at the same time!
5. Rice and Chicken (Arroz con pollo)
This traditional Cuban dish is simple, delicious, and simple to prepare.
It is also another dish where you can notice the Spanish influence in Cuban cuisine because it is prepared with the same rice used for paella: Valencian style short rice grain.
Just like paella, the color of this dish also is yellow! But instead of using azafrán (saffron), like the Spanish dish, Cubans use achiote petróleo—a natural pigment extracted from the seeds of a native bush from the trópical territories of America.
Besides the Valencian-style rice and the achiote, to prepare this dish you also need diced chicken, species, and chicken stock.
The preparation is actually as easy as it sounds! You can follow this Cuban recipe to prepare this delicious meal for a busy day or as comfort food!
6. Flaring Tail (Rabo encendido)
This is one of the most traditional Cuban dishes you can try while you visit Cuba.
El rabo encendido is a spicy stew prepared with rabo de res (oxtail). The meat is marinated so it soak all the flavors of spices and then simmered until the meat is as soft as you want (which usually is really soft)
You can accompany it with rice, beans, and vegetables, and it is perfect to enjoy with all the family, especially if you all enjoy spicy foods.
Here is a recipe you can follow to surprise your guests, or even yourself!
7. Roasted Pork (Cerdo asado)
Cerdo asado is one of the most important traditional Cuban pork dishes. You can eat it with rice, beans, in sandwiches, or even as a snack in the form of pork rinds!
Sometimes, pork is the star of the table, and that is the case with cerdo asado (roasted pork). This dish is usually eaten on special occasions or during the holidays.
The traditional Cuban cerdo asado is prepared with the meat of a lechón (piggy), which is slowly roasted in an open fire for several hours until the meat is soft and crispy.
But to make it more affordable, you can also prepare it with pork pieces. In this case the meat has to be marinated in a special sauce and then roasted in an oven for, at least, two hours. You can eat it with white rice, salad, fried plantains, yuca, or whatever you want! It is a really versatile dish!
Want to prepare it yourself? This recipe is just for you then!
8. Moors and Christians (Moros y cristianos)
Rice and beans are a staple in Latin American and Caribbean cuisine, so it is not surprising when you find out one of the most representative traditional Cuban dishes has them as main ingredients.
Los moros y cristianos (Moors and Christians) is such an easy fix, perfect to prepare on a busy week, or an easy dinner on a weeknight, you just need rice and beans, some condiments, and a lot of hunger!
This dish is one of many that show us the African heritage in Cuba, and it is easy to understand why it is one of the favorite dishes in the island. Follow this simple recipe in Spanish to make it at home! You won’t regret it!
Siempre hay lugar para el postre (there is always space for dessert).
After eating such delicious food, it is usual to drink a cup of coffee and share something sweet. These two next recipes are some good ideas to enjoy as dessert, especially after a good and filling lunch or dinner.
9. Cuban Rice in Milk (Arroz en leche cubano)
This is one of the most delicious traditional Cuban dishes that are enjoyed as dessert.
Sweet, simple to prepare, and abundant for everyone to enjoy, el arroz en leche (rice in milk) is a sweet dish popular in Latin America, but the Cuban version is one of the most delicious ones!
For this delicious delicacy you just need rice, cinnamon sticks, evaporated and condensed milk, and lemon peel. Here is a really easy recipe for you to follow and surprise your loved ones with this amazing sweet dish!
Remember to eat it cold or warm instead of hot to do it the Cuban way!
10. Guava Shells (Cascos de guayaba)
This tasty candy is one of the most important Cuban dishes you have to try when going to the island.
This dessert is made with guayaba (guava) peeled, cleaned, and cooked on sugar syrup until it reaches the desired consistency, which is usually not too soft but easy to eat.
This sweet candy is perfect to eat with cheese and crackers after a good main dish.
Want to do it at home? We got you, here is the recipe for this fruity snack!
Taste the Freedom of Speaking Spanish
There are approximately 53 million people who speak Spanish in the United States. The US is the second-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. According to CNN, there are 41 million native Spanish speakers in the US who speak Spanish in their homes. A lot of those Spanish speakers are Cuban or Cuban descendants that are still connected to their home and traditions by their food.
If you plan to travel to Cuba to enjoy their delicious cuisine, being able to speak and understand Spanish will make life so much easier and more fun during your visit! You’ll be able to talk with the locals and have a more fulfilling and authentic experience.
When planning your next trip, it is important to make fast decisions and be attentive of your surroundings and options. Learning Spanish helps your cognition and decision-making abilities, so that way you can decide where to go, what to eat, and what to try on your adventure!
So what are you waiting for? Sign up today for a free 1-to-1 class with a certified native Spanish-speaking teacher at Homeschool Spanish Academy. Check out our programs and take a peek at our affordable prices and begin this new adventure with us!
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