The food in Cuba is spectacularly poor and the options are quite limited. The staple around the country is rice and black beans. While chicken and pork is widely eaten they are not prepared with any real gusto. The bland food is quite expensive and most of the restaurants are run by the government. A meal may cost between CUC 5 and CUC 20 depending on the place. Considering the proximity of the sea, the availability of sea food is quite poor. While lobsters are available in certain tourist restaurants they are incredibly expensive. There is a common joke about Cuban food which says that the best Cuban food is available in America. If you come with expectations of habanero peppers and red lobsters you will be greatly disappointed.
Considering that Cuba is located in the Caribbean belt and has had Spanish influences the food should be much better than this. However, some privately owned restaurants do provide better food but you might have to search for these. These are usually healthy and provide a cheap option when compared to the government owned joints. Remember that these joints have very limited seating and you might have to arrive very early. Most of the locals eat here but the prices are not the same for foreigners. It is not uncommon to find separate menus for locals and foreigners. You will probably have to spend more than double of what the locals pay. Options for breakfast in Cuba are quite limited and you be better served by sticking to your hotel. If you wander out of the hotel looking for some food in the morning you will be disappointed.
Cajitas are small parcels of food which are sold from local homes. These are usually made up of rice, fried or boiled vegetables and meat. The meat will either be beef or pork and the food isn’t that bad. You will probably get a cajita box for less than a dollar. Street food in Cuba is actually very American and you shouldn’t be surprised to find vendors selling pizzas and small sandwiches. No one can say for sure whether these are safe and it depends on the individual vendors. You can ask for advice from the locals if you wish but the food is quite cheap. The area between Avenue Zanja and Avenida de Italia is known for its street food and you should try this out.
Havana is home to a small China Town and the street food here is a good variation from the normal fare. However, it is far from authentic and might not be ideal for a steady diet.
Mojitos and Cuba Libres are the main drinks in Cuba and these are ideal for a sunny day at the beach. Sip a mojito and feel the refreshing mint flavor lift your spirits. There are two types of watering holes in Cuba and this includes western style bars and local state run bars. The western bars serve a variety of liquor and play music as well. These are usually quite expensive and sometimes serve food. If you are interested in experiencing fake American culture then you should head here. However, the state run bars are cheap and you can experience all the charm of a third world bus stop at these places. But the locals are largely quiet and sip their drinks in complete silence. You might be able to talk to the bartender after a couple of drinks go down. Avoid discussion of politics and other controversial subjects with the locals while you are at these places. This will surely lead to a bar fight or two.
The people and culture in Cuba has been suppressed over a period of time and this has led to several underground movements. Religion was also banned and frowned upon but recently the government has become more tolerant. Traditionally Cubans are Catholics but there are a variety of other minor religions in the country as well.People are by and large very friendly and help you out if possible. If you are invited to a home then you will be treated like a very important guest. Although this is not legally allowed, it happens none the less.
Facts and Figures
Population: 11241161 (2010)
Area: 40543 square miles
Nearest Airport/Railway Station: Havana