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At first glance, menus in Cuba may all seem pretty similar. However, there is a lot of quality food to be had, if you know what to look for. Cuban food reflects its Spanish and African roots and a typical Cuban creole meal is roast pork served with black beans, white rice, and plantains. The staples of Cuban food include rice and either black beans or red kidney beans. A tasty soupy stew of black beans is sometimes served alongside plain white rice. Root vegetables, such as yucca, malanga, and boniato are also popular accompaniments. Chicken is the most common meat on menus, while fish and goat are less common. When fish does appear in restaurants it is usually snapper or a plain steak of white fish. The traditional Cuban herbs and spices are cumin, oregano, parsley, sour oranges, and garlic. Sofrito, a paste made from onion, garlic, green pepper, and olive oil is the basis of many dishes. Vegetables are underutilized in Cuban restaurants, yet abundant in markets. Salads are often a mere heap of white cabbage, so vegetarians will be best off with beans and rice in restaurants. Fruit is also another nutritious non-meat option. Due to the tropical climate, you can find sweet pineapples, juicy grapefruits, and heavenly mangoes. Amazing freshly squeezed juices can be found throughout Cuba. If you need to fulfill your sweet tooth, Cuba has delicious ice cream and flan, a caramel custard. Other tasty deserts include cakes, cookies, and cucuruchu, a grated coconut treat. For many, the first thing that comes to mind when envisioning Cuban cuisine is the rum. Along with cigars, this is Cuba's best-known product. Rum is a sugar-based alcohol, and Cuba has always had plenty of sugar. The best known brand is Havana Club. However, there is a plethora of options. White rum is the basis of Cuba's famous cocktails: the mojito, the daiquiri, the pina colada, and the Cuba Libre. In addition to rum, Cubans are fond of beer such as Bucanero and Cristal. Wine is far less common, and most of the available wine comes from Chile or Argentina. Cuba does however produce excellent coffee. Lean times forced Cubans to be innovative with their cuisine. During the "Special Period," the tough years after the collapse of the Soviet Union when there were shortages of everything, Cubans had to learn to cook with whatever was available. During hard times, Cubans ate rice without meat, which is unusual for a culinary culture that is obsessed with meat. The opening of farmers' markets in 1994 allowed for a wider variety of ingredients. The markets are where farmers sell their surplus produce after the state has bought its quota. Today you can find a wide range of fresh vegetables, meat, eggs, honey, and other produce in markets. Yet other products, such as beef and lobster, can only be sold by the state.

This guide to Cuban cuisine was written by a Cuba travel expert at Cuba For Less available to help you custom design your exciting and adventurous Cuba vacations.

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