Cuba lifestyle and culture
Cuba boasts a unique culture, forged through its roller-coaster history – from Spanish colonisation, African slaves and swashbuckling pirates, to American influence and socialist revolution – and as a result of its ethnically diverse population. Spanish, African, American and Caribbean influences are all clear in the country’s music, cuisine, art and architecture. In addition, Cuba’s unique socialist system has helped shape people’s cultures and lifestyles. Average Cubans are less wealthy than their neighbours in America, and are subject to a form of food rationing for staple foods. At the same time, they enjoy the tenth highest literacy rate in the world, impressive health statistics and much lower unemployment and crime rates than in the United States.
Cuban food and drink
Rice, black beans, fried plantain and various root vegetables, such as yuca, are staples in the Cuban diet. In addition, common dishes include slow-cooked meat stews, often flavoured with garlic, onion, green pepper and oregano, ropa vieja (stewed, shredded beef), grilled chicken and ceviche (sliced raw fish, marinated in lime juice). A widely used marinade or sauce is called mojo and includes lemon, oil, raw onion, cumin and garlic.
At restaurants, popular snacks and lunch-time foods include empanadas and hearty sandwiches, often containing pork, ham, cheese or a combination of these. Widely eaten desserts are mostly of Spanish origin and include the Cuban version of leche flan (crème caramel), various pastries and rice or bread puddings. In addition, tropical fruit such as guava is commonly cooked in syrup with citrus peel and cinnamon and served with white cheese.
When it comes to drinks, Cuba is, of course, famous for its rum and rum-based cocktails, including the refreshing mojito and daiquiri. Beer is also popular throughout the country.
Across Cuba, larger cities and towns include a wide range of excellent restaurants, cafés and bars, serving everything from lobster to pizza, sushi, pasta and traditional Cuban dishes. A few highlights are:
- Dona Eutimia Restaurant in Havana, for excellent Cuban food in relaxed surroundings, near the Plaza de Catedral.
- Also in Havana, the San Cristobal Paladar Restaurant, for good food in opulent surroundings, in a converted house full of antiques.
- Restaurant Aurora in Santiago de Cuba, for magnificently presented food in a beautiful courtyard.
- Restaurante San Jose in Trinidad, for a lovely atmosphere and good service; both the lobster and pizza are highly rated.
- The Restaurant Maite La Qbana in Morón, central Cuba, for highly rated breakfasts, outstanding lobster and a range of well-presented, Cuban dishes.
Cuba is also world-famous for its live music and vibrant nightlife, and Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Trinidad all boast a range of popular bars, clubs, discos and live music venues.
Top choices in Havana include La Zorra y el Cuervo, for jazz lovers, La Casa del Son, where you can learn the salsa, and the popular El Gato Tuerto, for excellent live music and a steady stream of inexpensive mojitos. Alternatively, take in a show at the Cabaret Parisien.
Among the most popular nightlife venues in Santiago de Cuba are the Casa de las Tradiciones and the Casa de la Musica, both featuring great Cuban music, dancing and drinks.
In Trinidad, try the open-air Casa de la Musica or the hugely popular Disco Ayala, which is located in an underground cave.