Chew on This

We can learn from Cuban food on the island — fresh fruit, fish and lots of seasonings

Grilled lobster served at a Cuban paladare, a family-owned restaurant in Havana, often in the owner’s home.
Grilled lobster served at a Cuban paladare, a family-owned restaurant in Havana, often in the owner’s home.

Living in Miami is a unique experience.

I was a child of transplanted New Yorkers. Most of the families around me were either Northern transplants or true Miamians born at Jackson Hospital. And then in the early 1960s our city changed with the Cubans fleeing the repressive changes taking place on their island. So although I am not Cuban, the island has always been a place of interest and influence.

With the easing of travel restrictions, Cuba is now a relatively easy destination to explore. And, so, off I went last week with a group of friends.

A primary question was how the food in Cuba compares to what I know from Little Havana. Everything seemed similar with a hint of difference. Morning at our apartment was eggs, but always with a giant plate of fresh fruit. There was no shortage of vitamin A with the fresh and delicious mango, guava and papaya. The coffee was just the perfect strength and the bread was rustic whole grain. Easily reproducible at home.

Cuba is a leader in culinary entrepreneurialism. Family-owned restaurants, called paladares, are everywhere. They are in a home and the family might be living next to the serving area. Each one is unique and all delicious.

Meals ranged from a simple grilled fish to an elaborate octopus with squid risotto. Rice and black beans are served with every meal, and they were the best I ever tasted. Delicious grilled lobster is on most menus. Organic farming is the norm in Cuba since pesticides are too expensive. Oil is limited, which means dishes are sautéed in minimal oil but seasoned heavily with garlic, onion and other spices. Fried plantains were good but drier, and the tostones were amazing.

I wish the concept of paladares was possible here. There is one site that is similar, but limited.

Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.