Cuban food is simple fare that takes Caribbean ingredients and adds Spanish and African culinary traditions to create one of “the world’s great comforts,” particularly for exiles, as Cuban-American journalist and author Ana Menendez has written. Given Cuba’s economic woes and the restraints on tourism there, Miami’s Little Havana is the keeper of the island’s culinary flame in the U.S., and a creative cauldron that has introduced Cuban food to thousands of visitors.
Cuban food is communal, and from breakfast — a simple cup of sweet coffee and a small, flaky pastry turnover — to a medianoche, a small panini-like sandwich, it’s best enjoyed in a lively, friendly, convivial atmosphere. The ultimate Cuban recipe is “good food, good friends, good music, more good food,” according to the Three Guys from Miami, cookbook authors who have appeared on Food TV and whose website, a guide to Cuban cuisine, is recommended by Saveur magazine.
Chicharrones, fried pork skins, are a favorite, as well as crispy plantain and yucca chips. Pastelitos, sweet and savory turnovers, are a mid-morning or mid-afternoon pick-me-up. Cubans also make tamales, although they are not as hot as their Mexican cousins, relying less on chilies for flavor and more on garlic and onions, favorite flavorings in the Cuban kitchen.
Perhaps the most famous is the Cuban sandwich. Made with crusty bread similar to a French baguette, but lighter in texture, it is filled with roasted pork, ham, swiss cheese and pickles. A smaller version is the medianoche, made with a sweet egg bread similar to challah, that is served as a late-night snack. Cubans love to roast pork, always flavored with lots of garlic. Lechon asado, the star of Cuban cuisine, is a whole pig, flavored with garlic and sour orange, roasted whole in a pit barbecue covered with banana leaves. Other well-known dishes include steak palamillo, a filet of beef pounded thin and flavored with sour orange and onions.
Black beans and white rice are ubiquitous in Cuban cuisine. The dish is often called Moros y Cristianos, Moors and Christians, a fascinating reference to medieval Spain when Moors from North Africa battled Christians for control of Spain. Black beans also appear in the famed Cuban black bean soup, which gets its flavor from oregano, peppers, onion and garlic. Another popular side dish is tostones — plantains sliced, smashed into small rounds and fried.
Sugar cane is a major crop on both the island of Cuba and in South Florida, hence the popularity of gurapo, a drink made from sugar cane juice, not to mention rum, the essential ingredient in a mojito or daiquiri. Batidos are milk shakes whipped with fresh, tropical fruit juices. But perhaps the most famous emblematic drink is Cuban coffee, a shot of dark roast coffee, sweetened with lots of sugar.
Sugar plays an up-front role in Cuban desserts. Flan is a rich custard with a caramelized sugar crust. Capuchinos — the name derives from the brown habits worn by Capuchin monks — are cones of a rich, eggy cake that wear a brown sugar syrup hood. Peanuts and coconut also are featured in sweet snacks like turron de mani, a thick peanut nougat; and coquitos, mounds of toasted coconut.
Source: Famous Cuban Food