Discover the real Cuban cuisine: 10 Cuban dishes you must try

cuban food rice and beans

At Espíritu Travel we have developed a list of the most popular Cuban dishes that you should try when you make your trip to Cuba. When traveling with us to Cuba, we make sure that our guides suggest you the best local paladares to try Cuban food. You can also check our selection of 8 best things to do in Cuba.

One of the best ways to get to the heart of a culture is through its cuisine and Cuban food is engrained in the daily life of Cubans. Cuban cuisine is a blend of Spanish, African, Native Taino, and Caribbean cuisine that makes Cuban food unique.

When it comes to traditional Cuban food, it important to remember that Cuban-American food in the USA is not the same as the food you will eat in Cuba, their dishes are seasoned and not spicy. The basis of its cuisine revolves around the traditional “criollo” food in which meat and rice are the main dish. The national dish of Cuba is Ropa Vieja literally translates to “old clothes” and comes from Spain.

Continue reading this article to find the most popular dishes in Cuba.

10 true Cuban ingredients and dishes you need to know

  1. Rice, Beans & Plantains

Traditional food is often based on the most abundant local products. In Cuba, rice and beans offer sustenance and comfort as a side dish to almost every meal and accompanied by Cuban Paltains that can be prepared fried and salty.

  1. Ropa Vieja

The dish is made with shredded beef that’s slow cooked in a tomato-based sauce with onions, bell peppers, garlic, and cooking wine. It is always served over white rice and accompanied by maduros (sweet plantains) or tostones (fried pressed plantains).

Ropa Vieja

  1. Mojo Criollo

This sauce is influenced by the Spanish and African food. Mojo Criollo is a popular sauce prepared with anything from chicken to pork, typically made with garlic, oil and sour orange juice.

  1. Picadillo

It is a very simple dish and a classic of Cuban food. It’s ground beef cooked in low hit and that browned with garlic, onions, bell peppers, oregano, bay leaf, and salt. White rice is mixed in once all the flavors combine. The dish comes from Spain, and the name comes from the word picar, which means to chop.

Cuban Picadillo

  1. Cuban Coffee

You can’t leave Cuba without tasting their coffee. Cuban coffee is strong and it is served with milk “café con leche” or on its own. This is a standard part of breakfast — as well as a middle-of-the-afternoon pick-me-up and after-dinner sipper. A cafecito or cortadito are the usual drinks of choice.

  1. Ajiaco

Is a stew made with a bit of everything, it is made with what they have on hand but the common ingredients are corn, sweet potato, malanga, plantains, beef or pork, tomato paste, garlic, onion, and lemon juice.

  1. Medianoche

Literally meaning “midnight”, it is a sandwich usually served in nightclubs in Havana and it is made with roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard, and pickles, but medianoches use a sweet egg bread.

  1. Pernil Relleno de Moros y Cristianos

A pork shoulder is marinated in orange juice, garlic, oregano and pepper and then filled with rice and beans and cooked in the oven. This a very typical dish and you can find it in almost every restaurants in Havana.

  1. Shrimps in coconut sauce

This is a typical dish from Baracoa, Cuban gourmet capital. Coconut southe made with coconut milk, tomato paste, garlic and a mixture of spices, is generally poured over shrimps, octopus or even lobster. 

  1. Flan

This is a very common dessert in all Latin-American. In Cuba, however, they swap the fresh milk for canned evaporated and condensed milk (making it creamier) along with eggs, vanilla, and caramel. It is the best way to end a great meal in Cuba.

These are just some of the most famous dishes in Cuba that I invite you to try when you visit the island. Cuban culture is reflected in its cuisine and there is no better way to understand its traditions than by sitting at the table at the casa particular you are staying in and savoring the traditional Cuban cuisine. Cuban food will not disappoint you, prepare your personalized trip to Cuba, enjoy the island of traditional Cuban food, which will always be present.

Fun fact: The most popular food in the US bearing the Cuban name is the Cuban sandwich. It was not, in fact, created in Cuba. It’s a Cuban-American sandwich that was created in Tampa and popularized in Miami.