Thursday, August 29, 2013

Eating Out and the State in Cuba

Quite recently in Cuba, paladares, or privately-run restaurants running out of somebody's home, became legal business operations.  They existed before, but as shadows, and not officially.  I ate at some of these restaurants while in Havana and was surprised by the variety.  There were paladares with merely two tables, and ones that took up multiple rooms in houses and seemed comparable to the giant restaurants you can find in the U.S.  There were some where you could get an incredibly filling meal for less than I pay for small latte back home, yet we also visited a fancier paladar where the full meals ran $15-$25.

Other restaurants are run by the state, though they might not always seem it on the surface.  The state-run restaurants catering to tourists have different names, very different ambiances, and somewhat different menus.  The food was generally cheap and unseasoned, and depending on what you ordered the portions were usually either enough-to-be-satisfied or enough to take a little bit home.

If you've ever wondered what a "typical meal" would be like at a state-run restaurant in Cuba but haven't yet made it there for try one for yourself, you're in luck (and finally my annoying habit of sharing pictures of what I eat via social media can serve a higher purpose)!

A "typical" restaurant meal in Cuba, no matter what kind of establishment you ate at, would almost always include plain white rice, a salad largely based off of cabbage, and some type of meat or fish.  This one also included canned potatoes, green beans, and carrots, as well as fresh cucumber and tomatoes.  The canned vegetables are a subtle reminder that though Cuba is famous for its impressively quick adoption of urban gardens and organic agriculture (discussed in more detail elsewhere on this blog), it still imports around sixty percent of its food.

As possessor of the world's biggest sweet tooth, I got far too excited over the fact that when you order a "meal" rather than a sandwich at this restaurant, it automatically comes with dessert (as all meals should).  Though the merits of Cuba's policies about food and degree of retention of state ownership in businesses are debated on the international stage, inclusion of dessert with meals is one policy that this state-run establishment should never change!

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