It’s possible to become a bit of an elitist when you travel. It’s not that you will look down on the residents of the country you’re visiting, but more that you might come to have negative opinions about the choices that some of your fellow tourists will make. To eat in a foreign country can be an utter revelation, and even a trip to the supermarket becomes a cultural experience of the highest order. Restaurants and eateries can almost be overwhelming, and this is when you will want to share plates with your companions. There can be some frustration at not being able to try everything that’s on the menu, but of course there are only so many hours in the day (so a three hour lunch might not be feasible). And let’s not forget that the human stomach only has a certain capacity (and so you might not want to spend the afternoon wonderfully full of food, and yet unable or unwilling to do anything but lay on your back in a cool, darkened room). And so why would some of your fellow travellers limit themselves to chain fast food restaurants that they can easily find at home? The very thought of it! Havana is a city where the culinary scene is racing ahead, in a stark contrast to its drab past. Street food is where it’s at in Havana, particularly if you’re only after a quick bite to eat. And in Havana, there are some things it would be unthinkable not to sample at least once!
- Salty and Sweet: Chicharritas de Platano
Sometimes you might have a hunger that can only be satisfied with chips… or fries, if you prefer the American way of saying it. It’s not as though these deep fried strips of potato deliciousness are a rarity on the streets of Havana, but you should try a wonderful Cuban variation. Chicharritas de platano are slices of plantains (prepared when the fruit is not fully ripe, so that it can be sliced thinly). The slices are then deep fried and salted, resulting in a delicacy that is both salty and sweet, but utterly delicious. It can be enjoyed as is, or even with ketchup like its potato counterpart.
- Utterly Sublime: A Glass of Guarapo
You can keep your cola, or your iced skinny caramel soy latte. When the heat hits the streets of Havana (and it will), there is only one beverage you need to refresh you. OK, so maybe there are several, but we’re not counting alcoholic beverages here. Guarapo is nothing but freshly pressed sugarcane juice. It might sound like nothing more than sugary water, but this is not the case, and the delicacy of taste is sublime. The consistency of the juice will vary depending on the sweetness of the sugar cane, and it can sometimes be necessary to add a squirt of lime juice. This drink is widely available from Havana’s street food vendors.
- Your New Best-Loved Smoothie: Batidos de Guayaba
If you’re not one for a hearty breakfast each morning, then there is one thing that you need to get your day in Havana started on the right note. Batidos de Guayaba is fresh guava, combined with milk and sugar and then blitzed in a food processor. It’s essentially a smoothie, and one that should be enjoyed as soon as it’s poured into a glass and presented to you, before the guava begins to separate from the milk. It’s perfect for breakfast, or with breakfast… or with lunch, or basically anytime you want it.
- Not Quite a Pie: Pie de Coco
This is not a traditional pie in the sense of having a discernable filling. Pie de Coco is ravishingly sweet shredded coconut (masses of the stuff) that is then baked into a pastry. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a cup of ultra strong Cuban coffee, which you will quickly develop a fondness for, despite the soaring temperatures. This is a traditional street food staple in Havana (and indeed, across much of Cuba), and you should also try to find time to visit Baracoa, the heart of Cuba’s coconut production where this delicious fruit is put to some fiendishly inventive culinary uses.
- Gosh, That’s Good Goat: Fricassee de Carnero
Beef is not unheard of in Havana, but pork and chicken are more likely to be commonly found on menus. But don’t forget the charms of the goat, which often has a richer, more substantial taste than beef. Fricassee de Carnero is stewed goat meat, generally served with rice, black beans and a small side salad. It’s basic, hearty, and incredibly tasty. It’s something that many Cuban restaurants will offer, as you will discover on a full day tour by Locally Sourced Havana Tours, but many street food vendors will also sell it to go, on a paper plate with a plastic fork. It’s not really something that can easily be eaten on the go, so find a shady spot to sit down and enjoy it.