Hey My Loves!
Sorry it's been so long since my last post, I feel like I haven't been in the kitchen much these days. I have been in Cuba however! It was V.V.'s first trip to the beautiful tropical paradise, stayed in Varadero, and I absolutely loved it! The water is azure, the sand is powdered sugar white, the sun is always shining, the rum is ever flowing and best of all, the Cuban people are absolutely fantastic - so warm and kind and absolutely awesome. I plan to go back ASAP!
One thing I will say that wasn't exactly outstanding was the cuisine. . . mainly because I am vegan, partially because most Cuban resorts just don't really serve amazing food (the main reason for this being, that because Cuba is communist and food is rationed, food goes to the Cuban people FIRST and then what is left goes to the resorts - and that's exactly how it should be, in V.V.'s opinion).
The national dish of Cuba is Moros y Christianos aka Moors and Christians aka black beans and white rice - sounds veg friendly enough - but it is often cooked with lard and often contains pork so that was pretty much a no go (I was able to find a vegan version of this dish ONCE- just plain white rice, black beans and some chopped green bell pepper and red onion. Quite tasty!).
Pretty much every veggie dish I came upon at the resort had either meat in it or loads of butter, but I managed to find something vegan to eat at every meal! For brekkie, I stuck to the amazing fresh fruits of the island, fresh squeezed orange juice and sometimes toast with macadamia nut butter that I brought along myself. The resort we stayed at had a pizza guy in the beachside restaurant who made pizzas to order all day long. He was my hero. He made over 500 little pizzas a day! I ordered my lunch pizzas with all the vegetables (including the corn?) and asked for it to be 'sin queso, por favor!' (without cheese). In the evenings there was a pasta bar where you could order your pasta dish any way you liked it. I told the pasta guy very sweetly, 'soy vegetariana' (i'm vegetarian) and he double scrubbed the pasta pan to make sure there were no straggly meat scraps.
The very best meal we had was in a local restaurant reccomended to us by the consierge at our hotel. Meson del Quixote is high on a hill over-looking the ocean and serves up amazing Cuban/Spanish cuisine. They also had a fabulous musical trio playing music all night long :) Instead of putting plain bread on our table, they put a basket full of crisp, feather-light bread that had been gently rubbed with tomatoes, olive oil and garlic which I can only guess was their version of the Spanish dish Pan con Tomate. They had paella on the menu as well but they were all meat and seafood versions, so when we asked our waiter Jose what he reccomended for vegetarians, he offered to create a paella dish without any meat and topped with sauteed veggies just for us! It was a very memorable and wonderful evening :)
Here are some quick tips I can suggest if you are vacationing in beautiful Cuba soon:
Tip #1: TIP, TIP, TIP! The average salary of a Cuban person is around $20 Canadian dollars a month. I hear a lot of people say that they don't tip until the end of their stay in Cuba but I am POSITIVE that continually tipping will give you much better service (we tipped for every drink and every meal, even though it was all-inclusive, and we rarely had to wait for drinks at the bar) and the people are so, so grateful for the extra cash. Especially as a vegan in a country where 'vegan' is a generally non-existant term, and asking for special requests and being pains in the tushie: TIP!!!!
Tip #2: Bring little gifties for the Cuban people. Little travel size toiletries, toys, candy, books, clothes you don't wear anymore, jewelery you dont wear anymore (Cuban women have the most beautiful hair and it is always styled and often adorned - ATM's Mama left some necklaces from the dollar store as a gift for their maid and the next day she was wearing them in her gorgeous hair!) are all very expensive and hard to come by in Cuba. We left little treats as well as a tip for our maid, Wendy, every day and she always wrote us such sweet thank-you notes! Even if the person you give these items to can't use them, they can trade them or find someone who CAN use them.
Tip #3: Learn your P's and Q's in Spanish as well as what non-vegan foods you do not want in your tummy. "Por Favor" - Please, "Gracias" - Thank-You, "De Nada" - You're Welcome, "Soy Vegetariana" - I'm vegetarian, "Sin queso, mantequilla, leche, huevos, carne, manteca, pollo, y pescado." - Without (sin means without, con means with) cheese, butter, milk, eggs, meat, lard, chicken and fish. Hopefully 'soy vegetariano' will suffice, and maybe a 'tengo allergia de la leche' (I have an allergy to milk, maybe not true but whaaaaateva).
We also found out that fruit names have alternate meanings in Cuban Spanish: If you refer to someone (of either sex) as a 'mango' you are saying they are sexy and if you ask someone for 'papaya'. . .if you are hoping for the fruit, ask for 'fruta bomba', because papaya is slang for a gals lady-bits. . .unless of course, that's what you were after in the first place! He he he. . .
Tip #4: If you get the opportunity, go visit Havana. It is the capital city of Cuba and it is a beautiful place, rich in history and culture. When ATM and I go back, I most certainly want to stay overnight in the famous Hotel Nacional or maybe a couple of nights in a little boutique hotel, converted from a coloniel home.
Tip #5: The white paper cones that you see people selling are usually either roasted, salted peanuts or banana chips. BUY & EAT THEM IN LARGE QUANTITIES!!!!!!
Tip #6: Eat a fresh, young coconut. At our resort, I chatted up the towel guy at the pool to find out how to get a coconut. He called over his buddy the gardiner who hacked open fresh, young coconuts with a machete for just 1CUC per coconut. You can drink the delicious, nourishing coconut water and then scoop out the yummy, jelly-like insides for a truely tropical treat!
Tip #7: Travel equipped with some vegan snacks and condiments. Instant miso soup, protien bars, hot sauce (the food can be a little bland), nut butter, soy jerky, trail mix, whatever you like to snack on. Find out if your hotel room has a mini fridge before you bring anything perishable!
Tip #8: Have an amazing time!
I'll write again soon, I have an updated version of my Vegan Benedict, a DELISH and quick curry noodle soup, a way to dress up delivery pizza and some YUM appies!