Want to know more about Cuban Food? Here’s a list of traditional dishes from Cuba and more information about the Cuban cuisine and each dish.
Vaca Frita, literally meaning fried cow is a classic Cuban dish that is made of fried and shredded flank or skirt steak, which has been marinated in lime, garlic, and salt. It is typically served with rice and black beans but can also be accompanied by fried plantains.
The beef is seared until its crispy and the key for cooking a nice vaca frita is to ensure that the beef gets a perfect texture. Sauteed onions are often added on top as well.
Picadillo is commonly eaten all over Latin America and is usually made with ground beef, although ground pork can be used as well, or a mix of both. Cuban picadillo often include onions, garlic, oregano, tomato sauce, olives, raisins, and peppers.
Moreover, capers and potatoes can occasionally be added as well. Depending on the region, it can be sauteed in white wine and olive oil, and the Cuban picadillo is always served with black beans and rice.
Ropa Vieja, literally meaning “old clothes” is considered as the national dish of Cuba. The main ingredients to make Ropa Vieja include flank steak and tomatoes as well as bell peppers, caramelized onions, and carrots.
It is typically served with black beans, rice, and fried plantains. The Miami version of Ropa Vieja is usually a bit sweeter than what you’ll be served in Cuba since they use fully ripe red bell peppers.
Medianoche, also known as the Cuban sandwich is a simple yet delicious quick-bite that gained its popularity in the night clubs of Havana, hence its nickname “midnight”. The bread used is typically soft and sweet and filled with cheese, mustard, pickles and roasted pork or ham.
Cuban lobsters have gained fame worldwide for its savory taste and meat. Lobster Enchilado is a traditional seafood dish where the lobster is cooked in spicy tomato sauce, with added flavors from garlic, onion, cayenne pepper, paprika, lime juice, and clam juice.
The lobster and tomato sauce will be served with rice on the side and some vegetables or fried plantains. When it comes to Cuban food, this is my personal favorite and I was fortunate enough to taste it in Cienfuegos at a family-owned restaurant.
Pernil is commonly eaten across all of Latin America, Cuba included, especially during festive celebrations and holidays. It consists of pork leg or shoulder that has been slowly roasted for hours. Some typical ingredients used include sofrito, pepper, salt and other spices such as adobo and oregano.
A traditional recipe includes marinating the whole piece of meat for at least one day. High temperatures are used during the roasting process as well, which makes the outer layer crispy.
Rice and Beans
Arroz Congri, or simply congri is a staple food in Cuba that consists of rice and black beans. They are cooked together on the stove, giving rise to the black color. It’s a popular side dish that can be paired with almost any main course from Cuban cuisine.
Arroz con Pollo
Arroz con pollo is a savory dish that is rich in flavors and popular across all regions in Cuba, although some regional varieties exist. Chicken is the main ingredient along with rice, peas, and red bell pepper.
Tomatoes, cumin, onions, garlic, annatto, and oregano are some other common ingredients when making Arroz con Pollo, which literally translates as rice with chicken.
Ajiaco is a traditional stew/soup in Cuba and other nearby countries such as Colombia and Venezuela. The dish can be made from beef or pork and a variety of tropical vegetables and roots, such as yuca, sweet potatoes, cassava, and yam.
Fresh corn on the cob, plantains, pumpkins, and tomatoes are common ingredients as well, which are all slow-cooked together and later results in rich flavors.
Pulpeta is commonly known as Cuban meatloaf, although it’s quite different from an American-style meatloaf. It is made from ground pork and beef that are mixed with deviled ham, eggs, breadcrumbs, paprika, pepper, salt, and oregano.
The mix is then shaped into an oblong loaf before two hard-boiled eggs are put into the center of the loaf. It is later seared until it gets a crunchy crust and later simmered in a Cuban-style sauce for 1-hour.
Pastelitos are small and savory pastries from Cuba with a meat filling and raisins and olives. It’s a great snack that can be eaten anytime during the day if you just want a quick bite. There is also a sweet version where the filling can consist of guava, cheese, pineapple, cream cheese, or coconut.
Huevos Habaneros or Havana eggs as it would be named in English is basically fried eggs a la Habana. It’s a colorful breakfast dish that includes peppers, onions, and tomatoes, and fried eggs. It can also be topped with cheese and butter.
Boliche is another popular dish from Cuba, made of beef roast that is stuffed with chorizo or ham, and later marinated in citrus juice. The result is a mouthwatering food experience that is highly recommended if you’re going to a Cuban restaurant.
Olives, green peppers, and spices can also be added and the Boliche is typically simmered in water along with onions until it’s tender. Rice, black beans and fried plantains are common side dishes that accompany this hearty pot roast.
Rabo Encendido is a Cuban-style oxtail stew that is slowly cooked for several hours. It’s a delightful stew that is typically served with yellow rice or mashed potatoes. Some of the main flavors come from garlic, onions, green pepper, white wine, and black pepper.
Cuban street pizza
While pizza originated in Italy, the Cuban version is far more simple and widely available as cheap street food across the whole country. One pizza costs around 5-10 CUP for the classic version with cheese. Another popular type is served with slices of ham on top.
Yuca con Mojo
Yuca con mojo is basically marinated yuca root with mojo sauce and it’s a common side dish in Cuba. The marinade is commonly made with lime, garlic, olive oil, and onions.
Bistec de Palomilla
Bistec de Palomilla is popularly served in Cuban homes and restaurants. It’s basically a thinly-cut top sirloin steak that is pan-fried and seasoned. Sliced onions that are cooked in the same pan can be added on top and served with white rice.
Cuban Cuisine in short
Food from Cuba is typically a blend of Spanish, African, and Caribbean flavors. The colonization by Spain and the former slave trade brought these influences to the island, which has shaped the Cuban cuisine into what it’s like today.
Like many other countries in the Caribbean and Latin America, rice and beans are a staple food of Cuba. In general, most dishes are simple in nature with few ingredients.
Is Cuban food spicy?
Cuban food is generally not spicy in a hot way, but many dishes are still rich in flavors.
What is a typical lunch in Cuba?
Lunch is the main course in Cuba, and some of the most common dishes for lunch include Ropa Vieja and Arroz con Pollo.
Where to eat Cuban food?
If you’re traveling to Cuba, you’ll have three choices on where to get food, which is one of many interesting facts about Cuba. The first option is to go to one of the state-owned restaurants, which are usually expensive with average quality.
Then, there are Paladares, which are typically family-owned, operating under a state-license or remain open illegally. This is usually where tourists can get a taste of real Cuban food, and at much lower prices as well.
The third option is to order food from the small hole-in-the-wall shops that typically sell street food in Cuba, such as hamburgers and pizza. These small street shops are usually inexpensive, especially if you pay in Cuban pesos rather than the tourist currency – Convertible Pesos (CUC).
Another option is to stay in a so-called Casa Particular, which is a guesthouse where you stay with a Cuban family. Some of these offer to cook every meal for you, including breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Cuban Desserts & Snacks
- Copa Lolita
- Tres Leches Cake
- Fried Sweet Plantains
- Malanga Fritters
- Torticas de Morón
Most Cubans eat a light breakfast, usually some coffee and bread. However, if a larger breakfast is prepared some fruits are usually added as well and some fresh guava juice.
What is your favorite food from Cuba? Leave a comment below!