Cafeteria El Arietel (prices in Peso Nacional: 26P = 1USD), Habana Vieja, Cuba — May 14, 2003
A country simply can’t be known for everything. Cuba does have the best music, rum, cigars, beaches and dancers. While it excels in the these expanses, it inversely lacks in food. Plainly put, Cuba is not a culinary destination. In fact, you might be downright disappointed, shocked even about what is put on your plate. There are the gems: the 10¢ fruit juices, the 5¢ ice creams. But, by and large, much of the food is downright lousy and some of it even a bit dangerous (eg: Malecón hamburguesas at dusk.) And most of it takes long time to get due to the long queues and lackadaisical kitchen staff. Then again, why rush? Remember, this is communism, and the chefs get paid no matter if the restaurant is patronized or not. Yes, good meals are to be had, at a premium. You could easily throw down $20 in a paladar (private restaurant) or get lucky in a casa (like I did); but as for the everyday fare, it really is nothing more than ham sandwiches, cheese pizzas, various cuts of pork, rice, and pastas. I did discover a liking for pan con pierna (leg meat) that I never knew I possessed; and the pizzas were satisfactory, aside from the zesty (almost moldy) cheese. Then again, when in Cuba, you don’t live to eat — you eat so you can absorb all the other indulgences that make this place so famous.