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Cuban Cuisine Offers A Rich Blend Of Cultures

Like its close neighbor Mexico, Cuba found itself at the center of many converging cultures. This has produced the distinctive taste that is now known worldwide as the Cuban way of cooking. Read on as we take a gastronomic journey from Havana to Guantanamo.

Spanish explorers strongly influenced on Cuban cuisine, as they did for many countries in the Caribbean, Central America and South America. Cuba's food history also has been affected by African tastes. The Spanish were influenced by the Moors, African Muslims who ruled parts of Spain for several hundred years, while African slaves who served as cooks for Cuban gentry added their own touches to native cooking. French colonists who fled slave uprisings in Haiti also added their own culinary arts to Cuban dishes.

Mixing indigenous ingredients along with those brought in by the Spanish, Africans, and the French, Cuban cuisine evolved into something that is unique and possessing a distinct character. It is similar to what would many describe as a "county" style in that cooking is simple and recipes and techniques got passed down through oral lore and hands-on teachings. New cooks serve as apprentice for experienced ones and this allowed for self-expression and modification of dishes.

It is actually very difficult to make an authentic Cuban cookbook as Cuban cooks rarely measured ingredients. Instead, they used "pinch" and "dash" a lot and a lot of tasting and adjusting was done to get the taste just right. This tradition has given rise to dishes that are simple and straightforward and requires very little tending to. Anything fuzzy and requires constant attention was rare. In fact, deep-frying - with the necessity of watching over everything closely - is practically unheard-of in Cuban kitchens.

As the predominant island nation in the Caribbean, one would naturally assume a rich tradition of cooking with seafood. But with the strong African influence, Cuban cooking has an affinity towards vegetables, such as platano (similar to bananas), yuca (cassava), boniato (a tropical sweet potato) and malanga, another starchy root vegetables. These are often chopped up and simmered with onions adding flavor to the mix.

Instead of overpowering the natural taste of meats, Cuban cuisine uses herbs and spices to enhance them. Cumin, garlic, oregano, and bay leaves are kitchen staples. A unique seasoning mix is made by sauting onion, green pepper, garlic, oregano, and black pepper in olive oil. "Sofrito" as the Cubans call it, is similar to the Cajun taste that Americans from the South are familiar with.

Limited grazing lands have given rise to lesser quality meats and that prompted the practice of marinating in lime or sour orange juice and slowly cooking to allow the meat ample time to tenderize. Rice and black beans are the usual companions to meat dishes.

Despite its tropical climate, Cuba is also known for the quality and variety of its baked goods, especially turnovers with unusual fillings. For dessert, there is flan, an egg custard topped with caramel sauce that is beloved by virtually all islanders.


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