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Arroz a la Cubana – Anticipating Cuban Food

Recently I’ve been trying to organise where I’ll be staying next year when I’ll be studying in Havana, Cuba. It’s a little bit early I know (I don’t actually go until January 2015) but I thought I’d look into it anyway. It turns out that the woman I’ve been emailing at la Universidad de la Habana is willing to offer me somewhere to live, which is great! It might sound odd, staying with a local, but it’s quite common in Cuba to stay in family-run B&B-style accommodation. They’re called Casas Particulares and they’re pretty much the most practical option if you don’t want to live in a hotel. Hopefully it’ll be a really good way of improving my Spanish, and the Casa is right by the university and close to the sea front! Sounds perfect.

So as a way of celebrating, I decided to make something Cuban: Arroz a la Cubana. It’s quite a simple dish – it’s literally just rice, tomato, fried banana, with a fried egg on top too – so, unsurprisingly, it’s really not that difficult to put together. I was a little bit sceptical at first (fried egg and banana?) but it resulted in a really tasty, if not interesting, meal. Fried banana is great, if you’ve not tried it; it’s kind of like baby food-ish mush, but incredibly sweet and greasy. Mmmm.
I wonder whether this will become my staple dish when I’m in Cuba. I hope so, I quite like it. The ingredients are so simple; it’s such an I-have-nothing-in-the-cupboard-what-can-I-make? kind of dish. I don’t know why it hasn’t been added to more student cookbooks.
I’ve seen a couple of recipes that suggest adding ground beef to the tomato sauce. I think this might be an adapted recipe though, as eating beef is apparently uncommon in Cuba. Only the state is allowed to slaughter cows for beef, which is then usually sold to tourists or to be exported. A Cuban who slaughters their own cow, even if they’ve reared it themselves, can actually be faced with a prison sentence of up to ten years.

So I decided to leave the beef out. I did, however, use a mince-substitute instead, more because I need to get rid of all my freezer stuff (I move out next week) rather than anything else. It worked quite well I think.

Anyway, even though it’s more than seven months away and I have to spend a semester in France first, I’m quite excited to go to Cuba. It’s really exciting. I have no idea of what to expect, except fried banana. I really hope there’s fried banana.

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Warren O’Donnell
French & Spanish
Nantes, France and Havana, Cuba

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