Tag Archives: Cuba

Searching for Food in Cuba

Last week Bill and I were in Cuba with First-Hand Aid, the organization that brings medicine to the people there. Another way we help people is by assisting a food program called Meals on Heels, for which we bring lunch to elderly people who can’t leave their homes. I asked the program director how he shops for the food and he told me he spends Friday, Saturday, and Sunday each week going from market to market trying to find all the ingredients he needs to make lunch for 30 people from Monday through Friday. That’s 150 meals. And, in Cuba, sometimes no hay. Translation: there is none.

It’s not like in the U.S. or other industrialized countries where you can go to a supermarket and load up for the week. In Cuba, you have to go to the meat market, then the produce market, then the fish market, but the problem is there may simply be no fish that day. So you continue walking to other markets in the city until you find it (or don’t), sometimes logging 20 kilometers in a weekend.

Here are some images from our visit to a couple of the produce markets, where we were able to find onions, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash–items on our shopping list for the week.

The corn, however, did not look so good. So we kept looking….

But no hay comida–no food here–at this market. So we kept on walking….

We did find some spices at the next market but no corn that was acceptable. Maybe tomorrow….

It’s a common problem in Cuba. Even when tourists eat at restaurants, sometimes the menu items are simply not available. Bill and I were in Havana a week and could not get rice and beans, a common Cuban staple, until the last night when we had dinner.

It just reinforces how lucky we are in the U.S. to have access to so much food from all over the world and, in particular, in Michigan where we have a rich bounty of local produce available even in the winter.

(If you’re interested in learning more about the Cuban economy as it relates to food, check out the article “Thirty Days as a Cuban” in Harper’s magazine. Sorry, but you’ll have to pay for it to access it online!)


Cuban Tostones: Fun to Say, Fun to Make, Fun to Eat

When I was in Cuba recently, there were several times I sampled Tostones–not once-fried, but twice-fried plantain bananas. So when I saw plantains at Mediterranean Island in Grand Rapids this weekend, I decided to try making Tostones myself.

The recipe I found via Google is called Cuban Tostones. And it was really easy.

Start with plantains, also known as platanos in Spanish-speaking cultures.

Peel them and cut into approximately 2-inch slices.

Heat vegetable oil in a pan or a wok and add plantain slices, frying for 1-2 minutes and turning as they brown.

Remove the fried plantains to a paper towel to drain, then flatten using the bottom of a glass. Reheat the oil and fry again.

Drain once more and serve with salt. Tostones make a great side dish with meat or as part of a vegetarian meal such as Cuban Black Beans and Rice.

The Three-Ingredient Lunch

When I was in Cuba last week with FIrst Hand Aid, I ordered this meal for lunch at the Hotel Ambos Mundos, where Ernest Hemingway used to hang out. (He stayed in Room 511, for those inquiring minds who want to know.)

My lunch? Arroz con Huevos y Platanos Fritos, or Rice with Fried Eggs and Plantains.

Simple. Unique. Delicious. And local.

Is It Me, or Is Salmonella Out of Control?

For a week I was on vacation in Cuba and when I came home to a million emails–many from the USDA, which I subscribe to–I couldn’t believe all the press releases about salmonella contamination.

For example:

Basic Food Flavors hydrolyzed vegetable protein

Trader Joe’s Chocolate Chip Chewy Granola Bars

Wholesome Spice Crushed Red Pepper

Then I read the Grand Rapids Press last Sunday and saw more notifications on the “Recalls” page:

Kroger Onion Soup & Dip Mix

Homemade Gourmet Tortilla Soup Mix

Castella Imports Chicken Base

Tim’s Cascade Snacks

An article in last weekend’s The New York Times addresses the hydrolized vegetable protein recall and how it “demonstrates the risks of the nation’s increasingly industrialized food supply chain. Specialized food plants may supply scores of customers involved in the production of thousands of products. Contamination at any one of these specialized plants can reverberate through nearly every aisle in the grocery store.”

The far-reaching salmonella contamination is just another reason to avoid processed food. Isn’t it better to buy locally, know your ingredients, and cook from scratch than to take the risk of eating industrialized food?

In Havana, Cuba, a Model for Sustainable, Organic Gardening

Having just returned from Cuba this week, I can’t resist posting this video to my blog. It shows how resourceful Cubans can be–planting organic gardens, or huertas, among decaying buildings to help feed the community.

To me, it’s inspiring to see what people with limited resources can do to survive. And, as a gardener, this video motivates me to start planning this year’s garden!

The Simplest Food: Fruit

For the past week, I’ve been in Cuba on a humanitarian mission bringing medicines to hospitals, meals to elderly people who can’t get out, and toys to kids in oncology wards. It was a life-changing experience that is difficult to describe.

And of course, we ate Cuban food while we were there. I can’t resist sharing some of my food experiences from the trip.

One of my favorites is also one of the most simplest forms of food: fruit. Each day, no matter where we had our breakfast, fresh fruit and freshly blended fruit juice were available: guava, pineapple, papaya, orange, grapefruit, banana, or some combination of those tropical fruits.

The photo in this blog post is from our breakfast in Cienfuegos, Cuba, a province in the south, where our group went for an overnight visit. We enjoyed guava, papaya, and pineapple, plus fresh-squeezed orange juice that morning. It’s tough coming back to a carton of Tropicana orange juice and bananas shipped from Costa Rica after eating delicious, local, tropical fruit!