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Monday, 28 May 2012

Cuba – Parte Dos!

Still in Cuba – we’re off to the Open Air Market. In case I didn’t say so before, most of us in our little group are involved in the food business in one way or another. Being in the food business in the State of California prepares us for a fairly rigid set of rules and regulations. Walking through the open-air market in Havana had us all laughing, pointing, rolling our eyes, shaking our heads and thinking of our beloved inspectors absolutely having kittens at things that we saw…



These are two of the butchers we watched while they were hard at work… one has his axe on his work table, one knife in his waistband and the other in his hand. The other had his axe in a – uh – knife block (?) and was delicately slicing up a filet… or was it a liver? Either way, the whole place really was about as clean as it could have been.


Very impressive. We were told that they didn’t worry so much about refrigeration because they only brought in and butchered as much as they’d need in a day. No more, no less.



In another stall there was this lovely rump roast available for purchase with proof of the part of the animal that it came from – the tail is still attached!




Then we moved on to the produce section – a lot of the available vegetables are limited to potato, sweet potato, yucca, onions, peppers and more peppers.









The fruit is beautiful – guanabaná, mamey, bananas (platano fruta), plantains (platano macho) and pineapples.

Sidebar – as I said before, I’ve known most of our merry band of travelers through business, but this trip was my first opportunity to spend time with some of them outside of work. Another of our group was Dr. Kathleen “Katie” Feicht whose company, Asta Food Research, provides product development and quality control consulting to the food industry both nationally and internationally.  At work Katie is our go-to person when we’re challenged by the mystery of the moment during the R&D process and she takes care of most of our clients’ requests for nutritionals.


Suffice to say we were very impressed by this particular vendor (and we had a good giggle) when we asked him about the nutritional claims he was making to promote his freshly grated coconut. He was Juan-y-on-the-spot with his very professional nutritional label. And the coconut tasted great!


When dining out in Havana there are two ways to go. The first option is to dine at one of the government or state-run restaurants. These are the establishments where one runs into every large tour group in town. “Welcome cocktails” followed by mass produced food and more global than local entertainment. If you’ve ever travelled on a bus tour anywhere in the world and have been herded into a restaurant with other groups and then fed en masse, you know what I’m talking about.


That said, our first night we ate at El Aljibe – our first dinner and our first Moros y Christianos – black beans and white rice. Simple. Savory. Tasty. It worked. The roast chicken was falling off the bone and the mojito was fabulous. Another night we ate at the Café Del Oriente. Gorgeous old building. Beautiful interior. We were escorted straight through the beautiful downstairs dining room and up the stairs to the tour group dining room. Asi es la vida.


The other option – the preferred option – is the Paladar. In 1993 the Cuban Government passed a law allowing families or small groups of entrepreneurs to open small restaurants in private homes and eventually some public buildings. Over the past couple of years they’ve been given even more flexibility and are becoming more and more popular. Note – 3 weeks before we arrived The Government changed the rules so that government employees (our guide and driver) were no longer allowed in or even near the Paladares. So… our driver would drop us about a block away in the midst of a quiet neighborhood and our guide, Vicki, walked us to the restaurant, got us seated and then smiled and waved and said she’d be back in a couple of hours. Seriously! And it’s a good thing she came back to get us because I’m not sure we could have found our way back to the bus. It was dark out there!


Once we got past that little bit of crazy we thoroughly enjoyed our dinners. The Paladar La Cocina de Lilliam was our first. I haven’t been able to find a website for it, but if you Google the name for some images, you’ll start to get an idea of how beautiful it is. Walking through the front gate is like walking into a little tropical paradise in the middle of this quiet neighborhood. What a treat. Our waiter was helpful and very friendly. We tried the Malanga fritters, fresh bread (made by Lilliam herself), Red Snapper in Vinaigrette, Shrimp Risotto, Lamb, Garlic Shrimp and an assortment of sides including Roast Potato, Sweet Potato, Rice and Congri. The ice cream choices were so unexpected we decided to try them all – apple, peach, basil and carrot!


Another was the Paladar La Moneda. It’s on the second floor of a beautiful old building with a view onto the Plaza La Catedral in the old part of Havana. AND – at 9:00 p.m. every night a cannon is shot from the fort across the harbor entrance. At about 8:59 our waiter reminded us about the cannon so we jumped from our table and practically ran up the skinny stairway to the rooftop patio just in time to hear this amazing, giant BOOM. One shot. That’s it. Then back to our table for more dinner.


The third Paladar was called Le Chansonnier. Here’s a photo of mom heading up the front entrance. And below is a link to an article from the New York Times about Le Chansonnier and the whole Paladar experience if you’re interested.


I could go on and on. If you want to hear more about this amazing adventure, let me know and we’ll get together to talk.


In the meantime, it’s Memorial Day. I hope you’re getting to enjoy a beautiful day off.