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.
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.
Our favorite Ropa Vieja recipe.
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.
Our favorite Cuban Black Beans recipe.
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 a dish to be cooked for special occasions.
Our favorite Arroz Congrí recipe.
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.
Our favorite Cuban Sandwich recipe.
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.
Our favorite Ajiaco recipe.
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.
Our favorite Vaca Frita recipe.
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.
Our favorite Picadillo a la Criolla recipe.
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.
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.
Our favorite Lechon recipe.