Many people spend their spring breaks in beautiful, tropical places. I usually go to Florida with my family, but this year was a little different. Still tropical and beautiful, but usually not free for Americans to visit, Havana, Cuba was my destination this year.
I technically wasn’t there on vacation, as I was there studying abroad with one of my classes, but I still definitely capitalized on my week there by exploring all of the food Havana had to offer. My objective was to study architecture and historic preservation in Havana’s oldest sectors, but who says I couldn’t do some independent culinary research while I was at it?
Cuba’s culinary scene is usually imagined as the traditional rice, beans, and pork, but there’s a lot more than that — it’s a big mix of many cuisines. Here are some of my favorite things I ate and drank during my week in Havana.
11. Ice cream at Coppelia
You may have heard of the Cuban movie Strawberry and Chocolate, and this is the ice cream parlor that the characters in it go to. Being the good tourists we were, we decided to try it out.
I had to get one scoop of strawberry and one of chocolate, just to maintain authenticity. It was kind of a mistake, as the strawberry ice cream was not very noteworthy. The chocolate was good, though, and the crumbles on top were a welcome surprise.
10. Cafeteria food at Ciao Amigo
Honestly, I was just super excited to eat some vegetables, because I’m pretty sure we had them maybe 3 times the whole week. Cuban cuisine doesn’t seem to believe in vegetables. The rice and beans weren’t super noteworthy, and the flan was a bit too eggy, but the coffee was good. The candy that came with it was a nice touch.
Also, the whole tray was around 5 CUC (basically $5 USD), so the best part was how much of a bargain this lunch was.
9. Breakfast at Hotel Colina
Every morning, we woke up bright and early and went downstairs to eat breakfast, which was included in our hotel room cost. On this particular morning, the kitchen made pancakes, which were sort of like little mini crepes — 10/10. Also, the egg guy always made some on-point omelettes, and Cuban bread is always a move. Note the 2 dried apricots on my plate. #Healthy, right?
8. Pork kabobs at Grillmanía
These were labelled “brochetas” on the menu, and none of us knew that word, but we all ordered it anyway because it was cheap. It was truly a leap of faith, but it paid off. The pork was perfectly cooked and the onions added a nice burst of flavor. The slaw was great, too (veggies!).
7. Ice cream from a cart in Viñales
We took a day trip to Viñales valley (about a 3-hour bus ride west of Havana) to see the mountains and caves, and after exploring nature, we ventured into the cute little town nearby. It was a hot day, and ice cream from the cart on the side of the street was a highly necessary purchase.
Cuban desserts are interesting because they’re not as sweet as American ones. This ice cream wasn’t as intensely chocolately as I usually like, but I still dug it. Plus, you can’t beat a Cuban #foodintheair shot.
6. Cuban coffee at La 1a de Empedrado
This was the first cup of Cuban coffee I bought in Havana, and it was the best by far. It tasted strong and bold, but sweet at the same time. A lot of the coffees I had during the week were burnt or too bitter, but this one was the perfect balance of all flavors.
It was a bit of a bummer that none after could match up, but I’ll remember this specific one forever. It was also super cool that it came from a little hole-in-the-wall on a residential street.
5. Cream puffs at El Templete
Not only was the waterfront view at this place prime, the meal was amazing: we had stuffed peppers, garlic shrimp, and an entree of fish with veggies (!!), but the true star was dessert. Most people got a walnut brownie, which I heard great things about, but because of my nut allergy, I got cream puffs. No complaints here. They were the best damn cream puffs I’ve ever had. Your move, France.
4. Ropa vieja stuffed plantains and veggies at Plaza Vieja
Ropa vieja and fried plantains, two traditional Cuban foods, collided in a delicious way at this restaurant. Also, this plate of veggies was probably the most delicious one I had on the whole trip. Not pictured is the drink I got: a Cubanito, which is essentially a Bloody Mary, but with Cuban rum instead of vodka. Highly recommended.
3. Pizza at Locos por Cuba
This pizza was awesome, and the restaurant was super cute. It was in a 3-story house, and we had to climb up terrifyingly steep stairs to get to the 2nd floor where the tables were.
We also ordered “crema de queso,” which we assumed would be kinda like American queso, but it was more like sausage gravy without the sausage. They gave us spoons to eat it with. Can’t win ’em all, I guess.
Dessert was ice cream and flan, and unlike the flan from the cafeteria, it was delicious. My friends and I agreed that this dinner was one of the best meals we had during the trip. If I ever make it back to Havana, I’ll 100% try to visit this place again.
2. Coconut on the beach
I had just gotten back from a walk along the water, and there was a man near my group on the beach selling coconuts. It was perfect timing, so obviously, I had to buy one. He chopped open the top, and said “Drink some of the water out, and I’ll fill the rest with rum.”
It tasted way better than any processed coconut water I’ve had. Not only was it delicious, but it was also economically friendly. Try finding a mixed drink that big in America for $3. #winning
Also, I scraped the coconut meat out and ate it after I finished drinking my coconut water and rum mixture. Coconut’s healthy, so it all balanced out, right?
1. Mojitos from the bar under Gran Teatro de La Habana
The Gran Teatro de La Habana is one of the most beautiful buildings I saw all week (if you don’t believe me, check it out), and we got to go to a brand new bar underneath it. My professor claimed this was the best mojito in Havana, so of course, we all had to try it. My friends ended up not really liking theirs, so I may or may not have consumed all 3 of these. #sprangbreak