Cuban cuisine is heavily influenced by Spanish gastronomy, the fruit of colonization; of African foods, a result of slavery, and of Caribbean food, due to indigenous groups that populated the islands of the Antilles.
The African influences in Cuban food come mainly from the sugar cane that the slaves cultivated and the forms of cooking that they brought from the African continent.
Many Cuban recipes will share similar spices and cooking techniques to those of Spanish, African and Caribbean cuisines. The result is a flavor profile that is somewhat a mixture of diverse cultures.
Table of Contents
Most Popular Cuban Dishes
Being an island, seafood is a common and popular staple in Cuban cuisine. Other staple ingredients include rice, carrots, beans, potatoes, onion, sugar, garlic, mango and bananas. The most popular meats include chicken, beef, pork and goat. These staples tend to make up the majority of traditional Cuban dishes.
So without further ado, here are the absolute must-try dishes of Cuba along with recipes for you to try yourself.
Ropa Vieja is a shredded beef stew with garlic, onion, cumin, tomato and red wine. It is commonly accompanied by rice, fried banana and occasionally avocado.
Ropa Vieja is one of Cuba’s national dishes and is a direct import from Spain where it originates. Many of the ingredients vary by region and it has since been tweaked and adapted throughout parts of Cuba.
Cuban Black Beans
Black beans are an absolute staple in Cuba where they are typically cooked with chilli, onion, garlic and brown sugar.
The key to cooking black beans well is soaking them for a long time and using simple flavors.
Arroz Congrí is a dish consisting of rice and black beans at its core. Other ingredients include pork rinds, red or green peppers and cumin, oregano and bay leaf. The exact ingredients vary depending on the part of Cuba where it is prepared.
Whilst being a fixture on most restaurant menus, Arroz Congrí is also considered to be a dish to be cooked for special occasions.
Cubano (Cuban Sandwich)
The classic Cubano or Cuban sandwich is prepared with roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles, all stuffed between two Cuban slices of bread. The bread is typically cut into lengths of 8 to 12 inches.
The Cubano was not actually invented in Cuba but by Cuban workers who had migrated to the US. The Cuban sandwich can therefore be found throughout US cities such as Key West or Miami.
Ajiaco is a soup dish consisting of ingredients such as Creole chicken meat, pork, bacon, corn, yams, green plantains, yucca, sweet potato and pumpkin. It is typically served in at parties or large family gatherings.
Vaca Frita “Fried Cow”
Vaca Frita is a crispy beef dish with beef prepared in a marinade of lime garlic and salt before being fried until crispy.
The meat, after cooking, is frayed, remaining in thin strands easy to eat. Some preparations of this typical dish use the traditional bay leaf, oregano or cumin.
Vaca Frita is commonly accompanied by black beans and white rice. In some areas of the island, the dish is accompanied by traditional fried ripe fruit or with salads.
Picadillo a la Criolla
Picadillo a la Criolla is a dish made with ground beef, ground pork, olives, capers and Creole sauce. It is typically served with fried ripe fruit and white rice.
Cuban soup or Cuban broth is a soup filled with tender cooked meat, corn, sauces, Antillean spices, peppers, pork, potatoes, yuccas, bananas, garlic, sweet potatoes and more.
According to the Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz, this dish is a symbol of the Island, since it contains all the ingredients of the different cultures of Cuba.
Fricase de Pollo
Fricase de Pollo is a stewed chicken dish with potatoes, peas, olives, capers and spices that are slow cooked in a tomato and wine-based sauce until the meat is tender enough to fall apart. It’s typically served with white rice and other sides like fried plantains.
Lechon is a quite simply a whole pig cooked slowly on a spit roast, the meat is then carved off and served with a range of sides. The meat of a Lechon is perfectly tender with a crispy, chewy skin.
Churrasco is a traditional South American barbecue technique where chops of beef, veal, lamb, pork and chicken are skewered and then grilled over a wood fire. It is a very popular dish in Brazil but is also a widely followed cooking method in many other countries in North and South America.
The meat used to prepare churrasco in Brazil is often from the zebu, a breed of cattle that’s particularly common in churrasco as a cut of meat known as cupim. Foods that are served along with churrasco include farofa grains, rice, fried potatoes, potato salad, steamed greens, black beans, onions, fried bananas and many different chili-based sauces.
Yuca con Mojo
Yuca con Mojo is a dish consisting of boiled cassava with a sauce of olive oil, orange juice and fresh garlic which is poured over the boiled yuca before serving. It is most typically eaten as a side dish.
Bistec Empanizado, also known as breaded steak, is a dish consisting of a seasoned, thin steak (usually beef or chicken) marinated in a tangy marinade and covered in cracker meal. It is then fried until it turns golden brown.
The dish is generally accompanied by lime wedges, fries, green salad, onion rings, tostones, white rice and black or red beans. It typically has a crisp texture and is golden in color.
Rabo Encendido is a Cuban oxtail stew which is typically prepared using a combination of wine, tomato paste and vegetables for a very long time until the meat is tender and juicy. It is then served with long-grain white rice and maduros.
Carne Con Papas
Carne con papas is a slow-cooked beef stew containing potatoes, made with a variety of herbs and spices, giving it a rich and savory flavor. It can be made with a variety of vegetables. Popular additions are onions and peppers, adding extra texture and flavor to the stew.
Tamal en Cazuela
Tamal en Cazuela is a dish made with sweet corn, cornmeal, and braised pork, known as a comfort food with ancient origins. The dish is seen as a less labor-intensive version of the tamale, consisting of much the same ingredients but cooked as a stew instead of packaged within corn husks.
Guarapo (Sugarcane Juice)
Guarapo is a traditional drink made from sugarcane juice enjoyed throughout Latin America. To make guarapo, fresh sugarcane stalks are crushed to extract the juice. The juice is then served as a natural, sweet and thirst-quenching drink. In some variations, guarapo is mixed with lime juice or served over ice for added flavor and coolness.