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Gluten Free in Cuba

Cuba is a pretty easy place to eat Gluten Free

Most people who’ve been to Cuba seem to complain about the food: lack of variety, lack of taste & lack of availability, understandable problems considering the very difficult years due to the trade embargo, but ZZ & I have been pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to eat “Gluten Free” in Cuba.

The main reason gluten free is easy is because theres very little “processed” food – Cuban food is real, old fashioned food !!!! Everything is cooked from scratch and almost nothing comes from a packet, making it easy to identity the ingredients.

Stables are: rice, beans, eggs, fish, pork, chicken, roots (yuka, malanga, boniato …), fruits and of course banana which comes in dozens of forms, salad & vegetables are unfortunately harder to come by.

Todays special is ….

When you sit down at a restaurant in Cuba, pay special attention to the waiter when he makes a menu recommendation for “todays special”, that often translates as “this is the only thing on the menu we actually have ingredients for” !

A normal plate of food looks pretty much the same everywhere in Cuba, whether it be lunch or dinner, restaurant, paladar or casa particular, in Santiago or La Habana:

  • one quarter protein (chicken, pork, shrimp, or very occasionally lobster)
  • one quarter rice
  • one quarter frijoles
  • one quarter malanga/banana/yuca & and a sprinkling of salad if you’re very lucky ! (if you find a restaurant with decent salad ingredients, take advantage and stock up on those vitamins !)

Fish Farms are BIG business in Cuba

Although it seems crazy, the majority of Cuba’s fishing industry comes from “fish farms” !!!  … we couldn’t understand why every meal of homogenous shrimp and fish fillets were EXACTLY the same size & taste in every restaurant, we got tired of asking if they were “fresh” until we realized that yes they are fresh, but just not caught naturally from the sea, hence the lack of diversity (and taste) !

In Cayo Jutias the fish was definitely fresh, straight out of the sea, super tasty and the only fish we ate in 2 months that actually had some bones in it ! (I guess they must have access to fishing boats and black-market fish markets)

In Baracoa they incorporate coconut & chocolate into their sauces so that makes a welcome change 🙂

In La Habana there are some pretty cool new restaurants & bars opening up which are far removed from the traditional “rice & frijoles paladares”. Check out lahabana.com for some great recommendations off the “Lonely Planet” beaten track. Our favourites are:

  • O Reilly 304 – modern fusion cuisine, they have lots of veggies !
  • El de Enfrente (opposite O Reilly 304, upstairs) – delicious Tuna Tataki, ZZ wanted to eat here every day
  • Los Nardos (opposite Capitolio) – in Lonely Planet so expect long lines outside,  good Cuban/Spanish food with HUGE portions
  • D’Lirios (downstairs from Nardos) – “posh” Cuban restaurant with lots of choice (and a wine list !)
  • Vitrola – (Plaza Vieja) – fun terrace with live music every night, Cuban food with international vibe

Granted that after nearly 2 months ZZ is beginning to roll his eyes at another plate of rice, frijoles and shrimp …. who’d have thought he’d actually get tired of rice & shrimp !!!!

… I wont enlighten him yet that in Asia we have more rice awaiting us 😉

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