Cuban food better in Miami than in Cuba

The Toronto Star discovers that Cuban food in Miami is way better than Cuban food in Cuba.

MIAMI—Other than the occasional travelling Pollyanna, most people visiting Cuba wind up with one serious complaint—the food. Serious foodies often vow never to return; those who do pack their own spices. And emergency rations.

As a result, one might assume that Cuban cuisine is . . . well, blah. Which is hardly the case, as we learn in Miami’s Little The Arts District on Calle Ocho, Little Miami, where the majority of cigar stores and art galleries are located.Havana, which centres around a three-kilometre stretch of the famed Calle Ocho (SW 8th Street), just west of the city’s downtown core. Here, given South Florida’s bountiful fresh produce, delicious authentic Cuban food abounds, made, best they can, according to traditional methods.

At the Exquisito, a restaurant/cultural community hub on Calle Ocho, we meet Raul Cremata, a modern renaissance man known as the Cuban Sinatra. A local gallery owner and prominent artist in his own right, Cremata explains that, as ingredients became scarce or non-existent in Cuba, the country’s recipes had to be continually adjusted to the point of non-recognition.

Take flan, for instance — a very rich dessert made primarily from eggs. Lots of eggs. In a post-revolutionary edition of a Cuban cookbook, though, the flan recipe calls for only one.

“I met a lady studying culinary arts who went to finish her thesis in Havana,” Cremata says. “She had to leave. In order to find real Cuban food, you have to come to Miami.”

So the problem with the food in Cuba, then, is not the cuisine but, rather, the lack of raw ingredients. Thanks to decades of shortages, the foodways by which recipes are passed down have been interrupted and, perhaps lost forever. Many, however, are preserved, in Miami, where some 800,000 Cubans live — the world’s largest Cuban community outside of Cuba.