On Havana´s Malecon sea wall, overlooking the blue horizon of the straits of Florida is an ethnic paladar that is paying homage to Cuba´s recent history. It is called Nazdarovie.
Nazdarovie is a restaurant that celebrates the social and cultural bond between Cuba and the ex-Soviet Union by serving up Slavic dishes surrounded by Cold War era pop and political art.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of Venezuela, China, and now potentially the United States as major trading partners with Cuba history seems to have relegated the old hegemonic influence as insignificant.
However, the memories of thousands of Cubans who studied in Soviet countries and the immigrants from eastern Europe that decided Communism in the Caribbean was better than Communism in Siberia are trying to keep their brand of old world culture alive.
When private restaurants became legal in Cuba a few of these nostalgic individuals got together and decided they wanted to reintroduce the flavors of Moscow, Kiev and Minsk back to the Mojito soaked Caribbean.
The restaurant is the result of an attempt to capture and revive the flavors and memories that are fondly recalled by many Cubans and immigrants alike.
Even with Cuba´s chronic potato shortage the menu is loyal to the mission of offering savory starters such as Ensalada Olive, a cold salad with cubes of the hard to find tubers, green peas, homemade pickled cucumber, boiled eggs all held together with a light mayonnaise.
While the Caribbean heat might make you balk at a warm appetizer if you are arriving after a walk on the Malecon the Pielmeni Siberiano should make you think twice. This plump Russian style ravioli is full of ground beef and bathing in a shallow bath of fresh dill cream sauce. And if stuffed foods are really your thing make it a double and ask for the Golubets con aji relleno, which are cabbage rolls stuffed with meat and rice cooked in fresh tomato and homemade sour cream sauce.
The best part about such a niche ethic food restaurant in Havana is that finally you can find something like beef stroganoff. OK, so it does depend if there is beef available in the kitchen, and since its Cuba the substitute is pork. But at least its still new. The stroganoff sauce is composed of sour cream and Porcini mushrooms.
Of course Nazdarovi could not call itself Soviet cousin without offering caviar and vodka. In fact, you can have both together. The drink is called the “Nazdarovi Shot” and is a shot of Stolichnaya vodka with a lime topped with a dab of black caviar on top of the glass.
The drink menu also includes a Green Russian which is a blended cream of mint somewhat inspired by the White Russian.
On some weekend nights you might get lucky and see entertainment from the motherland. While we were there an eastern European gypsy woman (who has called Cuba her home for the last 20 years) was singing folk songs and regailing us with tales from her time on Broadway and in the Ukraine. All of this while looking over the balcony into sea. Soviet food, gypsy tales, and a warm Caribbean breeze; only in Cuba.
Nazdarovie is located just west of where Prado meets the Malecon at 25 Malecon on the 3rd floor. Just look for the red Soviet flag flying out the window. Reservations are made at 7860-2947. Open nightly for dinner.
Photos and Text by Graham Sowa.