Eating Out Cuban Style – My Experience in Culinary Cultural Immersion

A Cuban City Street

By Dera Williams

(Photo at left of a Cuban Street by Dera Williams.)

I traveled to Cuba during spring break 2008 as part of a study abroad trip for educators from Merritt College in Oakland, California.  Havana had been a cultural travel mecca with talented artists, dancing salsa and merengue at the Havana Club, various schools, the Universidad de LaHabana, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, and fine dining. A few days later we got off the bus, weary from a seven hour trip from Havana. Finally, we arrived at our destination; the coastal city of Trinidad in central Cuba’s province of Sancti Spiritus.

blockparty Eating Out Cuban Style – My Experience in Culinary Cultural Immersion

Dancers perform at a block party. Photo by Dera Williams.

Unlike Havana, life in Trinidad moves at a much slower pace. After a shower, something to eat and rest we were taken to a block party in our honor. Cubans live and breathe their art; there was music and dance everywhere. And the children – they come out of the womb dancing salsa and rumba! As we lounged on the beach the next day overlooking the crystal blue water with mojitos in hand, the talk turned to dinner. We considered our choices and a group of ten decided on a well-known restaurant. But then our plans changed. Inga, one of the professors, posed a question: “Do you want to go to a restaurant or would you rather have the true Trinidad experience of eating out, Cuban style?”

cubanfood1 Eating Out Cuban Style – My Experience in Culinary Cultural Immersion

Dining at the Paladar – both colorful and delicious!

She explained that she had been walking on the beach and was approached by a gentleman, a native Cuban who noticed our group. Would we like to dine at his home? Due to the economy and the embargo against the country, many Cubans looked for ways to supplement their incomes. Some open their homes to travelers for dining. Our initial doubt gave way to a sense of adventure. Why not? I wanted to know how a Cuban family dines. Around 7:00pm, three cars drove up to the edge of the hotel to transport what had become a party of fifteen. We crowded into the cars and after a few miles and more than one narrow rickety road, we approached a modest neighborhood of small brightly-colored houses.  The home that would be our dining paladar was painted blue.

Inside we were warmly greeted by the wife and the table that was lavishly prepared for us. There was a centerpiece of carved fruit that is traditional all over Cuba. We dined on grilled fish, rice, black beans and plantains; their staple, as well as salad and lobster fresh from the sea. Our hosts were gracious and eager for our comfort. About two hours later and after 20 American dollars each, our escorts returned and drove us back to the hotel. I learned later these paladars are essentially illegal. But I would tell any tourist to take a chance to experience the ultimate art of hospitality in Cuba.

dwilliamssmall Eating Out Cuban Style – My Experience in Culinary Cultural ImmersionAbout Dera Williams

Dera lives, works and plays in the Oakland/Bay Area where she is employed at a local community college. Proud of her southern roots, she is the family historian, researcher, an editor/reviewer, and writing mentor. Her most recent publications are a contributor to Go, Tell Michelle: African American Women Write to the New First Lady and as co-author of Mother Wit: Stories of Mothers and Daughters. Dera has also done academic writing for reference manuals.

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