Voy a la Habana para un Cubano, “I’m going to Havana for a sandwich”.

Voy a la Habana para un Cubano, “I’m going to Havana for a sandwich”.
Professional Chefs Food Network
Professional Chefs Food Network
Voy a la Habana para un Cubano, "I'm going to Havana for a sandwich".
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Cubano Sandwich

I’ve been on a cultural thread the last stretch, and today Im heading South. Cuba, the crossroads of the Caribbean. I’m very familiar with this country, having spent a considerable amount of time there up until the pandemic began. Cuba’s history is a long one, full of interesting twists and turns. Let’s have a brief look at the culture, cuisine and history, if you haven’t been, you may be inspired.

Cuba (/ˈkjuːbə/ (listenKEW-bəSpanish: [ˈkuβa] (listen)), officially the Republic of Cuba (Spanish: República de Cuba[reˈpuβlika ðe ˈkuβa] (listen)), is a country comprising the island of Cuba, as well as Isla de la Juventud and several minor archipelagos. Cuba is located where the northern Caribbean SeaGulf of Mexico, and Atlantic Ocean meet. It is east of the Yucatán Peninsula (Mexico), south of both the U.S. state of Florida and the Bahamas, west of Hispaniola, and north of both Jamaica and the Cayman IslandsHavana is the largest city and capital; other major cities include Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey. The official area of the Republic of Cuba is 109,884 km2 (42,426 sq mi) (without the territorial waters). The main island of Cuba is the largest island in Cuba and in the Caribbean, with an area of 104,556 km2 (40,369 sq mi). Cuba is the second-most populous country in the Caribbean after Haiti, with over 11 million inhabitants.

Havana Camila Cabello

Before the arrival of the Spanish, Cuba was inhabited by two distinct tribes of indigenous peoples of the Americas: the Taíno (including the Ciboney people), and the Guanahatabey.

The ancestors of the Taíno migrated from the mainland of South America, with the earliest sites dated to 5,000 BP.

The Taíno arrived from Hispaniola sometime in the 3rd century A.D. When Columbus arrived, they were the dominant culture in Cuba, having an estimated population of 150,000.[33] It is unknown when or how the Guanahatabey arrived in Cuba, having both a different language and culture than the Taíno; it is inferred that they were a relict population of pre-Taíno settlers of the Greater Antilles.

The Taíno were farmers, as well as fishers and hunter-gatherers. I’m going to jump ahead a few centuries, the history is very extensive…read on.

In September 1933, the Sergeants’ Revolt, led by Sergeant Fulgencio Batista, overthrew Céspedes.  A five-member executive committee (the Pentarchy of 1933) was chosen to head a provisional government. Ramón Grau San Martín was then appointed as provisional president.  Grau resigned in 1934, leaving the way clear for Batista, who dominated Cuban politics for the next 25 years, at first through a series of puppet-presidents. The period from 1933 to 1937 was a time of “virtually unremitting social and political warfare”. On balance, during the period 1933–1940 Cuba suffered from fragile politic structures, reflected in the fact that it saw three different presidents in two years (1935–1936), and in the militaristic and repressive policies of Batista as Head of the Army.

Constitution of 1940

new constitution was adopted in 1940, which engineered radical progressive ideas, including the right to labor and health care.  Batista was elected president in the same year, holding the post until 1944. He is so far the only non-white Cuban to win the nation’s highest political office. His government carried out major social reforms. Several members of the Communist Party held office under his administration.  Cuban armed forces were not greatly involved in combat during World War II—though president Batista did suggest a joint U.S.-Latin American assault on Francoist Spain to overthrow its authoritarian regime. Cuba lost 6 merchant ships during the war, and the Cuban Navy was credited with sinking the German submarine U-176.

Batista adhered to the 1940 constitution’s strictures preventing his re-election. Ramon Grau San Martin was the winner of the next election, in 1944.  Grau further corroded the base of the already teetering legitimacy of the Cuban political system, in particular by undermining the deeply flawed, though not entirely ineffectual, Congress and Supreme Court.  Carlos Prío Socarrás, a protégé of Grau, became president in 1948. The two terms of the Auténtico Party brought an influx of investment, which fueled an economic boom, raised living standards for all segments of society, and created a middle class in most urban areas.

Coup d’état of 1952

Slum (bohio) dwellings in Havana, Cuba in 1954, just outside Havana baseball stadium. In the background is advertising for a nearby casino.

After finishing his term in 1944 Batista lived in Florida, returning to Cuba to run for president in 1952. Facing certain electoral defeat, he led a military coup that preempted the election. Back in power, and receiving financial, military, and logistical support from the United States government, Batista suspended the 1940 Constitution and revoked most political liberties, including the right to strike. He then aligned with the wealthiest landowners who owned the largest sugar plantations, and presided over a stagnating economy that widened the gap between rich and poor Cubans. Batista outlawed the Cuban Communist Party in 1952. After the coup, Cuba had Latin America’s highest per capita consumption rates of meat, vegetables, cereals, automobiles, telephones and radios, though about one-third of the population was considered poor and enjoyed relatively little of this consumption.  However, in his “history will absolve me” speech, Fidel Castro mentioned that national issues relating to land, industrialization, housing, unemployment, education, and health were contemporary problems. 

In 1958, Cuba was a relatively well-advanced country by Latin American standards, and in some cases by world standards. Cuba was also affected by perhaps the largest labor union privileges in Latin America, including bans on dismissals and mechanization. They were obtained in large measure “at the cost of the unemployed and the peasants”, leading to disparities. Between 1933 and 1958, Cuba extended economic regulations enormously, causing economic problems.  Unemployment became a problem as graduates entering the workforce could not find jobs. The middle class, which was comparable to that of the United States, became increasingly dissatisfied with unemployment and political persecution. The labor unions, manipulated by the previous, government since 1948, through union “yellowness”, supported Batista until the very end.  Batista stayed in power until he resigned in December 1958 under the pressure of the US Embassy and as the revolutionary forces headed by Fidel Castro were winning militarily (Santa Clara city, a strategic point in the middle of the country, fell into the rebels hands on December 31st).

Not much has changed in Cuba since the 1950’s, it’s almost taking a step back in a time machine….that’s why I love it. The food is actually very good if you get yourself out of the resorts. The resort food in Cuba is nasty, and I will leave it at that. It really has nothing to do with real Cuban cuisine, much like many of the tropical destinations, resorts pander to the tourist with volume as apposed to quality. If you haven’t been, GO, if you have, but only to a resort, go again and stay in a casa principal. Basically a Cuban Air b & b. You can have a private villa on the ocean for less than $250 a week, includes breakfast and sometimes dinner. But don’t worry about that restaurants are very inexpensive. Lunch with a beverage of choice $5. You can find world class restaurants as well, but you will have to head into one of the larger cities for that, and you will pay more, but still significantly less than in North America. Okay, the food….

As a result of the colonization of Cuba by Spain, one of the main influences on the cuisine is from Spain. Other culinary influences include Africa, from the Africans who were brought to Cuba as slaves, and French, from the French colonists who came to Cuba from Haiti. Another factor is that Cuba is an island, making seafood something that greatly influences Cuban cuisine. Another contributing factor to Cuban cuisine is that Cuba is in a tropical climate, which produces fruits and root vegetables that are used in Cuban dishes and meals.

A typical meal consists of rice and beans, cooked together or apart. When cooked together the recipe is called “congri” or “Moros” or “Moros y Cristianos” (black beans and rice). If cooked separately it is called “arroz con frijoles” (rice with beans) or “arroz y frijoles” (rice and beans).

CONCLUSION

Cuba to me has become more than a vacation destination, and more like a second home. The people are kind, humble and beautiful. Many of things that we used to value, are still an integral part of Cuban fabric. I had one friend ask me what I thought was important in life, my answer, shelter, food and family/friends. This is still the cornerstone of Cuban culture. As I said previously, if you haven’t been….GO. However take my suggestion and go off grid. Check out “Scratch tours“, if your considering it. They are resuming travel packages to Cuba in October 2021, and I believe there is a Christmas 2021 package in the works. Cheers, and happy travels!