You might not know much about Cuba. But you should know how delicious Cuban food is.

If you are looking for the ultimate culinary experience, look no further than Hispanic food. This extremely diverse food market encompasses tastes and influences from a multitude of nations. From Spanish influences to Latin America, the meal varieties are both cultural and mouth-watering. It is impossible to get an idea of just how much diversity lies within Hispanic food culture by trying just one country’s dishes. However, it is a great place to start. If you are wondering just where you need to begin for your around-the-world Hispanic and Mesoamerican food tour, consider Cuba. This unsuspecting nation is actually home to a vibrant culture and rich cuisine. Cuban food is an exotic blend of both Caribbean and Spanish influences. Because of this, you can expect to encounter dishes unlike what you have ever had before.

Cuba is a mysterious Caribbean island nation that only recently began to open its borders to tourism. Even then, there are significant limits on who can travel here and when. Americans and Canadians are now able to visit here, but they need to follow strict regulations. Visitors need to create a very specific itinerary that follows all of the government regulations in order to gain access. In addition to this, travelers must adhere to the particular visiting restrictions and provide the appropriate documentation prior to entry. 

These nine types of Cuban food are a great way to experience Cuban culture at its finest.

While the process might remain complex for the near future, visiting Cuba certainly has its rewards. Cuba is known for its sugar-white beaches and array of tobacco fields. You might be familiar with the Cuban cigar, which of course is created from the country’s extensive tobacco products.

Cuban food is also something that you must enjoy for yourself. Whether you visit the country on your next trip, or plan to enjoy a local Cuban restaurant, here are some great dishes to look out for.

1. Tostones

Tostones are delicious slices of plantains. Unlike typical Hispanic plantain dishes, tostones are a uniquely Cuban food because of the way that they are prepared. Cubans make tostones by frying them twice in a row, which creates an extra level of crispness. The additional crunchy flavor gives a cracker-like texture to the dish. Oftentimes, you can find tostones served as an appetizer alongside a main course. If you prefer to make Cuban food homemade, know that it is easy to cook tostones. These are made with plantains, salt, and vegetable oil. Simply slice plantains thinly and deep fry them twice in oil. Serve them alongside your Cuban meal for a delicious accompaniment.

2. Tamale

Cuban food - Tamale

Tamales are a widely loved dish across many different Hispanic cultures. This traditional Mesoamerican meal comes in unique variations, each individually delicious. The dish is created with masa, or dough, which is hand prepared and rolled. Inside, you find a rich pork and chile concoction. The finished product is then steamed in a banana leaf or a corn husk, which adds delicious flavor notes. This cooking method also doubles as a plate when you are eating your tamales. Top off the tamale dish by drizzling the leftover chile filling sauce over the meal. Sour cream is another great dipping sauce.

3. Vaca Frita

Vaca frita is Spanish for “fried cow.” This dish is literally crispy beef, and is extremely delicious. The popular Cuban food consists of fried and shredded flank steak. Generally, sautéed onions adorn the top of the meal, and rice and black beans serve as an appropriate side. If you are looking to make vaca frita yourself, keep in mind that this meal takes two days to prepare. Even though it is a large time commitment, the actual preparation part is quite simple. You can even use a slow cooker to create an even easier process. 

Vaca frita is essentially just slow-cooked beef with tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, and various spices. Cook this on a low temperature all day and then shred the beef. Once you complete this step, simply marinate the meat with garlic and lime juice overnight. Now your dish is ready to be fried. Enjoy the vibrant flavors within your vaca frita as you sizzle it up for your Cuban dinner.

4. Lechon

Lechon is Spanish for pig, or pork, and is a tradition among many Spanish and Portuguese households. Its literal translation encompasses the entirety of the dish, as lechon is really an entire pig. For those not used to Cuban food, you might be a bit turned off by the dish at first. Most American restaurants or households do not carry out a whole roasted pig on a platter during a celebration. However, Cubans highly value the lechon meal and take great care to prepare it as such. Here, an entire pig is cooked over a bed of charcoal in anticipation of a holiday or event. While certain parts of the pig’s insides are removed during the cooking process, the exterior remains intact. As the roasting process nears the end, the pig cooking style is treated as a rotisserie and it is covered with seasonings.

5. Ajiaco

The origin of this soup dish is often debated, but what is not a mystery is its delicious flavor. Typically found in Columbian, Cuban, and Peruvian households, ajiaco is a truly authentic meal. This soup is prepared with chicken, potatoes, and the Galinsoga parviflora herb. You can expect to find whole potatoes and corn on the cob inside the soup as it is served. Ajiaco is a hearty dish and quite filling. You can serve it as an accompaniment to the main meal, or as a primary course of its own.

6. Ropa Vieja

You may suspect that beef is a popular ingredient in Cuban food, and you would be right. Ropa vieja is a classic Cuban braise consisting of shredded or pulled beef, stewed with a variety of vegetables. The dish is known for its strong flavor and delicious texture. You can serve ropa vieja with rice on the side for a hearty Cuban dinner.

7. Churro

Cuban food - Churro

Nearly everybody knows about churros, and it is easy to see (or taste) why. These delicious dessert pastries are primarily tradition in Spain and Portugal, but you can also find them in the Philippines and throughout Ibero-America. The best churros are equally crunchy and soft, with that authentic cinnamon taste. These spectacular post-dinner snacks are best served with a hot chocolate like dipping sauce on the side. If you order churros after your Cuban meal, be sure to snag some sauce too.

8. Picadillo

Picadillo is another one of those beef-based Cuban dishes. It sets itself apart with the unique blend of additional ingredients to the meal. Picadillo includes ground beef, tomatoes, olive, and raisins. The exact recipe varies depending on where you find it, but expect to see picadillo widely used as a main course. The meal is often used as a filling in tacos, pastries, or croquettes.

9. Frita

Fritas are an original Cuban dish that are now widely popular across an expanse of cultures. The simplicity of the sandwich adds to the allure. This meal is often known as a Cuban hamburger. If you see a frita, it is easy to understand the correlation. Fritas are something like a cross between a traditional hamburger and a pulled pork sandwich. Despite these similaries, know that the frita is uniquely Cuban. The meal is often served with seasoned ground beef and pork atop a roll of Cuban bread. Shoestring potatoes are also an accompaniment to the sandwich. Some restaurants and households also add lettuce, onions, and a kind of spiced ketchup sauce to the final dish. This dinner meal can be easily prepared on your own, or ordered in an authentic Cuban restaurant.

Use Cuban food as a way to experience its culture anew.

Cuba has so much for you to discover, starting with its excellent culinary varieties. As you make your way through the many options of dishes, you begin to see just how much of a melting pot Cuban culture truly is. The Spanish, Portuguese, and Caribbean influences all play a part in what makes Cuban food entirely unique. Go ahead and start checking these amazing meals off of your travel bucket list today and prepare yourself for a delicious Cuban food experience.

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