If you want to experience a culture’s epicurean essentials, do as the locals do: seek out the best street food. Throughout Cuba, vendors peddle simple snacks and drinks, offering a great way to taste many flavors without dropping much cash. In Cuba, as in other places, street food is best explored by those with ironclad digestive systems and adventurous mindsets.
What to Look For
1. Opportunity: Street food is hawked in any number of ways and places. Look for carts or vendor-held baskets and busy streets or popular places, such as parks, fairs, festivals, and outside of movie theaters. Sometimes, food is sold through storefront or private-home windows overlooking the street.
2. A queue: one place to embrace the art of waiting in line! Lines often indicate good food, priced right and favored by locals. A queue is also an excellent place to observe and interact with Cubans—so enjoy the experience of waiting for a few minutes.
3. Hot foods: If you’re nervous about street food, seek out vendors selling items that have been cooked at high temperatures. Frying, baking, boiling and steaming reduce the risks of illness.
Foods to Try
1. Plantains: The plantain, a Cuban dietary staple, is a fruit in the banana family. However, aside from the peel and shape, it differs considerably. Plantains are starchy, much lower in sugar, and best eaten cooked. Fried plantain chips (chicharritas de platano), often served in paper cones, provide a salty—and sometimes addictive—introduction to Cuban food.
2. Pizza: Despite the island’s more than 5,000-mile distance from Italy, pizza is popular in Cuba. The crust is thick, and often topped with pineapple and ham. Set aside your Chicago or New York expectations; Cuban pizza occupies its own category.
3. Roasted Peanuts: Throughout the island, you’ll find vendors holding white cones filled with freshly roasted peanuts (manis).
4. Drinks: Try a powerful cafecito (tiny Cuban coffee), gurapo (freshly pressed sugarcane juice) or batido (a fruit smoothie, often made from pineapple, coconut, banana, papaya, guava, or avocado).
5. Ice Cream: Follow the kids. They know where to find the inexpensive soft-serve ice cream that streams from Soviet-era machines.
These are just a few of the street foods you can enjoy on your next visit to Cuba. If you have already experienced Cuban street food on your last tour with insightCuba, we want to hear from you. Share your experience and/or recommendations in the comments below! We would love to hear from you.
Written by Lise Waring