Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Havana - What's the Food Like?

That's the question we've been asked the most.

For a long time, all the restaurants in Cuba were government run; they weren't privately owned by those passionate about food.  Now things are starting to change.  Restaurants can be privately owned, and chefs are exploring their passion for cooking.

The real problem is the lack of consistency in the availability of ingredients, and the lack of variety or selection of those ingredients when they are available.  Cubans make good use of what they can find, and we definitely ate some meals that we'd order again.

As with anywhere we travel, we do our research when it comes to food.  On our first evening we went to Nazdarovie, the only retro-Soviet restaurant in Havana.  They serve up Russian/Ukrainian food, and work hard to import the best ingredients.  We initially heard about this restaurant when Guy Fieri went there on Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives.  We ordered two of the dishes that he had, and they were top notch!

First up was the house made lamb ravioli, with cream and fresh dill.

This dish was absolutely perfect, and a great way to start off our week.

I had the chicken kiev, with mashed potatoes.  When I cut into the chicken, the herb butter poured out to flavour the whole plate.

I shared bites with Christopher, and he shared his perfectly-spiced lamb kebab with me - delicious!

We'd go back for all of these dishes again.

But, even better than the food at Nadarovie, is the incredible view of the water and sunset.  The outdoor seating looks out over the Malecon, and we got the best seats in the house.

The Malecon is where all of the Cubans hang out at night.  It is jam-packed with couples having picnics, families, groups of friends, etc. all sitting on the wall, fishing, and just hanging around.  It's the place to be.  We walked down the sidewalk along the Malecon a couple times at night.

We hit up another couple places from Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives, including Casa Abel:

And El Figaro:

The coffee lobster at El Figaro was another standout dish.  It was a serendipitous discovery; once upon a time, the chef accidentally spilled a cup of coffee on the lobster he was making, and since you don't waste food in Cuba, he made it work ... and it works.

We also ordered the carbonara, and enjoyed it too.

Breakfast doesn't seem to be as big of a thing in Havana as it is in Canada.  Many restaurants don't open until 11:00, but there were a couple near us that were open earlier for desayuno (breakfast). They had one option on the menu for breakfast, which came with all the food, as well as freshly squeezed juice, and coffee for $5.

The one place we went to a few times was Dulce Habana.

They'd bring out big plates of fruit first:

And then the meal (choice of egg, choice of meat, toasted baguette):

Another day we went to a middle eastern restaurant for breakfast (Topoly), and they brought out big platters of food, along with juice and coffee (and a little chocolate beside the coffee):

The eggs were inside the flat bread.  One of the bowls had cheese, and the other was butter, and then the little dish was a fruit sauce for the toast.

The coffee in Cuba is really good, and we often stopped to enjoy a cup.  They don't do coffee to-go there; I'm guessing because they don't have the cups.  Anyway, it's better to sit and enjoy and people watch.

Once we were sitting outside having a cup of coffee at Cafe El Escorial:

A guy walked by and set something on our table, and then kept walking.  It took us a second to figure out what it was ...

Okaaaaaaay 🤣🤣🤣 Christopher looks very Flintstone-esque.

It got a good laugh, and now resides on our fridge.

We did a bit of snacking in Cuba, but not much.  We shared an ice cream a few times:

The best by far was the coconut ice cream from a vendor in the street.  It was drizzled with chocolate, and served in a coconut half, and I could eat it again, and again, and again.

We also found churros in the street:

Sometimes we shared a pizza for lunch.

It was really nice to sit up on the rooftop of a luxurious hotel, enjoy our pizza, escape the heat for a bit, and look out over the city.

We stopped by the celebrity hot-spot, Saratoga hotel, to cool off one afternoon, and to have a beverage and a little snack.

We absolute loved Cafe Wanda, and stopped there twice in one day.

One morning a group of four Chinese guys were very intrigued by Christopher, and they each asked to take a picture with him:

They must be Flintstones fans 🤣

In the evening we met a bunch of other Canadians in the tiny cafe, and spent a couple hours visiting.

Other random eats:

Fried cheese at Gringo Viejo.  It tasted exactly like a grilled cheese sandwich.
Fish over a curry sauce.  We didn't realize it didn't come with sides - oops!

The trendiest place we ate at was El Cocinero, and it was packed!  Usually you need a reservation, but we lucked out and got a table without one.  Eating here felt more like we were in NYC than Havana.

Anthony Bourdain's visit and recommendation might have something to do with the popularity of this place.  Also, the building it is in is absolutely gorgeous, with multiple levels, an old spiral staircase, beautiful outdoor lighting, and a romantic feel.

The amouse bouche was a fabulous cold soup.

We shared house-made Asian dumplings, and tuna belly to start.

I had the duck confit, and Christopher had the pork.

We enjoyed our time at this restaurant, and then headed into the rest of the building to one of the coolest places we've ever been in our lives.  More on that in the next post!