On a recent trip with my husband to Havana, to visit our son who is working and living there, I was surprised at the quality, variety and freshness of the food served at several privately owned restaurants. Menus included lobster tail, lamb moussaka, rabbit pate, a variety of fresh fish and vegetables, and creative cocktails (they take their gin very seriously). But the food selection beyond the restaurant walls was not so fresh and varied. Produce markets are small and hard to find, food selection in government-run stores is unreliable, and concern about food safety is a reality. However, I was determined to cook while in Cuba and since I’m always up for a culinary challenge (my cooking nerdom follows me wherever I go), we set out to find our feast. What I quickly learned was that fresh fish is impossible to find, chicken can only be found frozen at government-owned stores, canned and dried milk are the only dairy options and meat sold at local markets is questionable at best. With the help of my son, we found a small produce market near our hotel. I purchased local vegetables and fruit, a loaf of bread and dried chickpeas. Vegan it is. The next obstacle was cleaning the vegetables. Water purification is poor in Cuba so I boiled tap water, cooled it and then used it to clean the fruits and vegetables. Any vegetables we were eating raw were blanched in boiling water. Although the preparation took longer than it would have in my Ardmore kitchen, I enjoyed every minute. We managed to pull together quite a splendid table.
On the menu was sweet and sour shredded cabbage, carrot and onion salad, tomato and cucumber salsa, chickpea salad, baba ganoush, and chickpea fritters with sweet potato fries. We ended this lovely meal on our balcony, overlooking the plaza, with fresh mango banana sorbet.