If you’d thought you’d made it through our entire 2,000+ word dissertation on Cuba without a post dedicated to food, you’d be wrong. This is Two Happy Cooks. It’s time to get down to business.
We had heard mixed things about Cuban food – some said it’s bad, some said it’s so-so. Some said that’s baloney and that Cuba is experiencing a culinary revolution. We found all three of these to be true. Knowing that any place has good food if you learn from a good cook, we signed up for a cooking class to see for ourselves how it’s done.
Meet Richy, traditional Cuban food whisperer.
Our taxi driver stopped to ask four different people for directions before we arrived at Ajiaco Café in Cojimar, a peaceful fishing village 15 minutes east of Havana that inspired Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. At the Café, Richy guided us through a three-hour, hands-on experience where we cooked and ate our way through the cuisine of Cuba.
It was epic.
Richy took us on a walk around Cojimar where we saw the ocean, listened to some street performers and visited the massive and abundant garden of his friend who supplies fresh herbs and produce to Ajiaco Café. We chatted with the restaurant’s chef and bartender, threw on our Ajiaco Café aprons and headed into the kitchen. Here’s what was on the menu:
Enchilada de Langosta y Camarones al Ron: Seafood in tomato sauce with rum. It is Cuban kitchen tradition to spill a little rum onto the floor for the spirits, and also tradition to taste a bit of rum from the cap. How could we not?
Ropa Vieja: Shredded beef, the most famous of Cuban dishes and basis for the American Sloppy Joe. The linked recipe calls for a slow cooker, which we did not use at the restaurant but would definitely use if we were making this at home.
Mojitos: The signature Ajiaco mojito has a bit of a twist on tradition, substituting honey for sugar and using aged rum. Pro tip – muddle the stem of the mint… that’s where the flavor is!
It’s also Cuban tradition to serve So. Much. Food. In addition to the dishes we prepared, they also served us fresh-baked bread, croquettes and mini empanadas, root veggie-based Ajiaco soup, rice and beans. We felt better knowing that the staff eats the leftovers, or they get donated to a church.
We’ve come to the end of our Cuban adventure. In case you couldn’t tell, we’re pretty big fans of the place. We saw and experienced beautiful things and learned a ton, but the people we met were the true heart of our Cuban experience. But don’t take our word for it. Go check it out for yourself, and bring us back some more Cuban coffee.
Until We Eat Again,
Two Happy Cooks