Thursday, January 19, 2012

CUBA I.

I feel like January 2012 is when we really started to explore Cuba. I hope you enjoy what we have discovered.

Café Bombon & Cappuccino-Varadero.
Terry, a Canadian Bellow we met in Varadero, invited us for coffee in our last day. We had two different styles:
**Bombon for 0.60 CUC – made with layers of condensed milk, coffee, chocolate, milk foam and cinnamon. Lovely.
**Cappuccino for 0.75 CUC – made with layers of coffee, milk foam and cinnamon. As well delicious…

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Bocadito de Jamon – little bite of ham- La Palma.
This is a great option for a snack in the afternoon, a little bite from a Cafeteria. You can get it for 5 Cuban Pesos which equals to 0.21 CUC. If you then get 2 bites and 2 juices named Coral (not natural), you pay 0.54 CUC. Pretty tasty and excellent price.
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Pizza at Pizzeria La Caliente- Vinales.
Pizza is not my thing but for sure a good snack especially if it is economical and well done. You can buy a small pizza to be shared by two people for 10 Cuban Pesos equivalent to 0.42 CUC. Jam and cheese is all what you need.
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Dinner at Belkis- Vinales.
We had the opportunity to eat at a Casa Particular for 8 CUC for two people. The menu was pumpkin soup, rice and beans, lobster, fried plantains and salad. The best part of it: the beans. Cuban people try to impress us with lobster which is not what we most desire and on top of it lobster is an illegal specie to have (for Cubans since lobster is only for export purposes by the Government); so we ate illegal purchased lobster. Later on we met the fisherman who illegally brought this lobster to Belkis, of course we found this out after we ate it.
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Lunch at the 15 Years Celebration- Puerto Esperanza.
We were invited to a birthday party of a girl who became 15. The same than in most Latin countries this is a big deal for a family. The young girl had a big party and we enjoyed the food.

The menu was:
**Crackers with some kind of meat in between.
**Main dish: grilled pork, rice with beans, fried plantains, salad, tamal. We witnessed the killing of the pig the day before and once more I realized that if I had to kill my own meat I would think more than twice to eat meat.
**Crudo de pescado: made with mashed lobster, bonito (a kind of fish), onions, garlic, oil, vinegar & salt.
**Cake and sweets: which were served before the main meal. I asked them to save it for us until we had our main dish. I can’t eat sweets before real food even if I am a grown up and even if I am in another country…
**Rum was offered but we had none since we had to ride therefore we had water and a juice with pieces of fruit.

Very enjoyable but we had to escape, if you want to know why you will have to wait to see us again!!!
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Croutons.
Lovely pieces of baked bread coming from the leftovers of the bread that did not sell during the day. You can find a big bag for 10 Cuban Pesos equivalent to 0.42 CUC. At first Brian looked at them with disgust but when he added butter he enjoyed them.
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Malanga.
For 5 Cuban Pesos (0.21 CUC) you can get a pound of malanga which is similar to a potato but drier, therefore you have to prepare something else to go on top. We fried some garlic with onions in olive oil and we poured this mix on top of the boiled malanga, of course you have to peel the malanga before you boil it.
Very tasty…
It can also be made into mashed malanga with milk, butter and salt after boiling the peeled malanga. Also very tasty.
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VIVA LA REVOLUCION…

Our arrival to Cuba could not have been better, good weather and safe after 7 days of rough seas.
We had to wait a little bit before we were able to explore the food in this new country because we were delayed in Cienfuegos dealing with paperwork and in that time we did not even eat, I am not joking.

In Cuba there are two types of currency: Cuban Convertible Pesos used by tourists which are equivalent to approximately $0.92 Canadian dollars/1 CUC or $0.87 American dollars/1 CUC and Cuban Pesos used by Cubans which are 24 Cuban Pesos/1 CUC.
For the blog I will not confuse you and I will use CUC but I have bought most groceries with Cuban Pesos as if I was a Cuban, confusing eh!

Guayaba drink.
For 2 CUC you can get a refreshing drink in downtown La Habana. Quite expensive but it is always like that when you first arrive to a new world.
Guayaba=guava.
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Cuban Pasta.
Yes, Cuban pasta. Our general pasta with the addition of Cuban cheese for $2.15 CUC (a big block that was good for 8 people). For the pasta I used tomato sauce that comes in a beer bottle; at the local shop where I got our veggies they only had green tomatoes or tomato sauce sold in recycle bottles, great idea!!!
We accompanied our pasta with Bucanero beer for $1/CUC each. Generally speaking there are two main beers: Bucanero and Cristal and they usually go for $1 CUC.
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Fried chicken.
I had been craving roasted or fried chicken and the first time I tried it I felt like I was eating a piece of rubber. So, when in La Habana I found a tasty chicken for $96 Cuban Pesos equivalent to 4 CUC at LA PACHANGA, totally worth it.
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HAVABA CLUB Rum Anejo Reserva & TUKOLA.
Tasting rum will be a task when in Cuba. Tasting tuKola is a most when in Cuba. If I translate that it means YOUR ASS (as it sounds, in writing would be “tu cola”). What it really means is your cola.
For 8 CUC you can get a bottle of Rum Anejo Reserva, tasty and soft, not too strong. Too early to make comparisons but as we learn we will share with you our findings as well as the use of each rum. This rum is good alone or with coke. You can also find diet coke tuKola but I do not recommend it like any other diet products.
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Victoria’s Secret.
Victoria is a lady in La Habana who owns a B&B otherwise known in Cuba as Casa Particular to host tourists for a reasonable price, she also offers meals. We tried her breakfast for 5 CUC for two people and it included: guayaba juice, fruit, coffee, milk, bread and chicken burgers. It was a great experience.
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Coppelia-Ensalada de helado (Ice cream salad).
This is the National Ice Cream Shop Cuban chain. You can go to the tourists’ side, likely what will happen or what you will be allowed to do or you can go to the Cuban side if you happen to have Cuban pesos and speak Spanish.
In the tourist side you will pay 4 CUC for an ice cream while in the Cuban side 3rd Category (it goes from 1st to 4th depending on what is offered and quality of service, 1st being the best) you will pay 0.2 CUC.
Guess where we had ice cream?, flavour of ice cream= mint plus rizado de guayaba (a mix of guava with vanilla), being this the first time we did not have to wait for a long time to make up our minds in what flavour to pick, the Government picked for us, no complaints about it, the opposite.
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Snack.
If you will have a snack in Cuba I recommend ice cream, in the Cuban side. We tried this chips called Anillos de bacon (Rings of bacon) for 1 CUC, not very good.
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Polar Bar Friday.
We were lucky to have been invited to the Polar Bar Friday at the Canadian Embassy before the year ended. Funny or not this gave us some kind of comfort. Burgers and fries were 8.5 CUC total plus a nice evening and excellent company. We got to meet the Ambassador for Canada in Cuba in this reunion as well as other Canadians who are able to put Canada’s name high.
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Paella Cubana.
This is originally a Spanish meal but since Cuban was also conquered by Spanish this meal was adopted and modified. For 5.95 CUC you can get a huge plate to share at La Vicaria Restaurant in Varadero. What is this meal about? It is basically rice cooked mainly with saffron with the addition of sea food, chicken and pork. Very tasty.
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Cuban coffee and cake.
Cuban coffee is usually strong and to my surprise people drink it sweet, yes, with the addition of sugar. Oh well. You will normally get a small cup of coffee half way filled up. Weird.
Now, you can get a Cuban chocolate cake for 3.85 CUC, yes an entire cake for this much. We got one and it lasted at least 3 days, of course I had to put a lock in the fridge and I had to hide the key from Brian.
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Beans, beans, magical beans.
Beans are magical and getting groceries in Cuba even more. What I am going to share with you is a recipe to cook beans but before let me tell you a little bit about the groceries.
You can get all your groceries for few days for about 2.3 CUC, variety is limited but for this amount of money for sure you can get papaya, tomatoes, onions, yucca, bananas and plantains, rice and smoked bacon. In addition, pasta is about 0.85 CUC and cheese can range from 2.15 CUC for Cuban cheese (big block) or 2.85 Gouda cheese (small block). In reality the basics for few days will not go over 5 CUC for two people.
Five pounds of fresh picked beans cost 2 CUC.

When in Varadero the lady who rented an apartment to us taught me how to cook Cuban beans.

Ingredients:
Fresh black beans
Green bell pepper
Onions
Garlic
Aji
Culantro (a different kind of cilantro)
Salt
Cumin (if available)
Bay leaves
Bacon (if available)
Oil

Preparation:
1) Clean the beans to eliminate stones or bad beans. Then cook them in the pressure pot (in Cuban called Reyna) with water and the green bell pepper cut in half. We used two cups of beans and water to the indicated level.
2) Once the pressure was built we left the beans to cook for 45 minutes and in the mean time we cooked the sofrito (fried ingredients).
3) We cut and fried with oil the onions, garlic, aji, bacon and bay leave.
4) Once the beans were cooked and the pressure released we added the sofrito and continue to cook without pressure. To this mix we added the culantro and salt, we had no cumin.
5) We cooked for about 15 more minutes to obtain a good consistency and we serve on top of rice and accompanied with a tomato/cabbage salad.
6) The neighbours brought some bread for us and we left no marks on the plate.
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Coco sweet life!!!
In Varadero we also tried some coconut sweet jam type. It is made with sugar boiled in water and the addition of coconut leaving a creamy paste that you can put on bread with cheese or simply eat by the spoon.
Fantastic.
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HAVABA CLUB Rum Anejo 7 Años.
Another rum we tried and the one Brian has enjoyed the most so far. Cost = 11.90 CUC.
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Compliments of Brian’s family.
Brian’s parents visited with us in Cuba. They arrived in Varadero and stayed at an All Inclusive Hotel. Due to the conditions of their stay and the fact that we could not visit with them at their hotel they invited us out few times.

***Cabaret Parisien at Hotel Nacional, La Habana- this is a place to enjoy dinner and watch a representative show of the African-Spanish-Cuban culture. For 58 CUC you can enjoy the dinner/show, worth it!!!
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***Casa Nostra Cubana, Varadero- a little restaurant near the gas station on Street 54. They serve simple tasty dishes; Brian had lamb with rice & beans for 5.85 CUC and I had Fricase de pollo for 3.65 CUC. The only thing I disliked is that they added the tip in the bill, which I refused to pay as a mandatory fee.
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***Arenas Blancas, Varadero- for the most part bad food. We were invited to spend time with the parents at a rate of 50 CUC per person for 8 hours, this gave us the right to use the facilities and eat. I will never recommend this hotel.

***La Barbacoa, Varadero- probably the best place out of all the places we ate at in Varadero. You can get a dish in a range of 7-18 CUC, the 18 CUC dish can be shared between 2-3 people.
I ordered chicken and really enjoyed it.
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***La Fondue, Varadero- a place that seems interesting but it is not as good as it looks. You can get cheese fondue or chicken fondue among other dishes, for 7 CUC each. The cheese is ready to be enjoyed with bread but the chicken has to be cooked in hot oil by yourself. Do you want to cook your own dinner at a restaurant?
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Ay Caramba, Colombia again…

About 1900 Colombian pesos per American dollar.

Back into this jungle we need to navigate carefully but it is easier when there is good food. The first thing we found again was the delicious SALPICON, which I have described before. Here I am presenting a picture of the one we found couple of blocks from the hostel. While we were enjoying it a jackass showed up offering porno movies, Brian almost used his broken arms to get him to move. What an idiot!!!

SALPICON.
Delicious!!! For 2500 Colombian pesos, with ice cream.
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Nachos Pacquiao.
Pacquiao deserves our respect; this Philippine boxer fought against Marquez for the third time on November 12. Marquez is Mexican and he is also good but Pacquiao is my favourite…
In Colombia everyone knows about football but other than that they could not care less for anything else. Finding a place to watch the fights near our hostel was a hard job because nobody heard about it. We looked in the DirectTV schedule through the Internet and asked in many places if they would show this channel for us. Finally we ended up in one place for the first part of the fights and the second part in another place, why? Because the first place had to close at 11:30pm…
Anyway, we enjoyed some nachos at the first spot. For 8900 Colombian pesos we had a full plate of nachos with a lot of ingredients, very well done…
Thanks guys!!!
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Fishy English.
We met an English couple at Palm Tree Hostel in Medellin and they shared with us a super recipe that I love and it is now in my top ten favourite recipes.
Thanks Stacey and Will, we will never forget about you…
We spent $6.13 USD for this dish including lovely pasta.

Ingredients:
Fish-we used corvina
Parsley
Garlic
Lemon
Butter

Preparation:
1) Cut garlic in very little pieces. Add the garlic as well as the lemon to the fish and let it sit for a little while.
2) Cut parsley in tiny pieces.
3) Put butter in a pan and fry the fish, constantly put melted butter on top of the fish.
4) Turn it over and keep cooking it. Once it is finally well cooked add the parsley and keep adding melted butter on top. You can turn it over again but try to keep the parsley on the fish for presentation.
5) You can eat this fish on top of pasta or simply with bread.
6) Enjoy with beer.
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Bandeja Paisa, super!!!
We had the opportunity to try Bandeja Paisa again, typical dish from Antioquia. First Dona Luz, the lady who takes care of the hygiene of the hostel where we were staying in Medellin, cooked for us this wonderful meal. For that thank you so much.

Then when we travelled from Medellin to Cartagena, Carlos took us for lunch at a common truck stop called “Los Comerciales” in El Alto Matasanos near Don Matias town and we had it again, this time with an additional type of meat called sobrebarriga (a soft piece of meat coming from the area of the stomach, not the insides). It was delicious and one plate was more than enough for both of us, price=19500 Colombian pesos. Arepitas made out of corn were given to us and these little tick tortillas were delicious.
A new drink for us came with the dish for us just to try, it is called Claro. Claro is made with the water used to boil corn; once the corn is removed and the water is filtered the addition of milk makes out of this a healthy and refreshing drink. Normally a glass of this tasty drink is 1500 Colombian pesos.
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Crepes.
This is just a quick reminder of making out crepes a fantastic and economical meal. You can use any leftovers from other meals to make the fillings.
We love cooking and creating and meeting people like Catherine who likes to cook also. It was a pleasure to meet her and to cook with her. I cannot teach a French to make crepes but I can let her know I appreciate their creations.
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Stahlratte, I feel sorry for myself.
Food on this boat is always great, unfortunately in this occasion I was not able to try a lot of the meals because for 7 days I felt sea sickness. However, I can share with you one dish: turkey with mashed potatoes. Don’t ask me how this was cooked but I can tell you it was delicious.
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