You might have heard—rightly—that vegetarian, paleo, gluten-free and other special diets are still largely unfamiliar in Cuba. However, no visitor to the island country has yet perished from hunger! With a little forethought, you should be able to navigate Cuba’s culinary scene.
Here are some tips for making the best of mealtime on the island:
On people-to-people trips, your guide will talk with waiters and chefs in advance, and announce each meal menu to ensure at least one allergen-free or otherwise-acceptable choice. Usually, at minimum, you can count on white rice and vegetables. That said, those might be your only options at times. If you follow a strict vegan diet, you could find choices limited or repetitive.
For vegetarians in Cuba:
Tropical fruits such as bananas, coconut, mangoes, and papaya can be found in abundance. You might also enjoy Cuba's most popular fruit, the mamey, virtually unknown in the U.S.
Many local recipes make use of starchy, flavorful plantains.
Rice and beans represent a reliable staple.
Locals enjoy incidentally vegan salads made from shredded cabbage, lettuce, sliced tomatoes, onions, or avocados.
Although no one would call French fries nutritious, few would deny that they’re tasty.
If you eat eggs, dairy, and wheat, breakfast should present few challenges. And the coffee and cocoa are delicious!
Some vegans recommend bringing along a bottle or two of hot sauce to keep meals interesting.
Depending on your degree of observance, a vegetarian diet should also keep you compliant with kosher or halal dietary law. (If you’re concerned about certain cheeses or eggs, make that vegan.)
If you observe sugar-free, gluten-free, Perricone, paleo, low-sodium, or dairy-free dining, you may also come in for challenges. But, with a little advance notice, most restaurants should be able to prepare salad or vegetable plates.
If your needs are unusual, or you’re a raw-foods enthusiast, you might do well to pack your own snacks. To minimize potential hassles at customs, choose foods in their original packaging over, say, Ziploc bags.
Talk with your insightCuba rep before your trip, to make mealtime memorable in the best ways.
Photos by Robin Thom, © all rights reserved