When Cuba and US agreed to restore tourism and trade in late 2015, it opened up a window of possibilities. There was just one problem: No one really knew what to expect. Besides North Korea, the island nation is almost entirely unknown to modern day travelers. Even the military families stationed near Guantanamo Bay are encouraged to stay on post, leaving a vast majority of the country unexplored even to this day.
They say the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. In Cuba, you could say the easiest way to learn the culture is through a meal. Cubans like to keep things simple and fresh — with just a touch of spice.
Breakfast: No Hassle
Judging by the breakfast fare, Cubans aren’t morning people. They keep it basic with buttered toast and an espresso with extra milk. The less-than-hearty breakfast won’t be the highlight of your day, but it’ll help you put a little pep into your step.
Lunch: Grab and Go
If you can have your lunch in one hand, and work at the same time, it gets the Cuban stamp of approval. Typical meals include a (pretty dull) cold pork sandwich. Some of the more unique options include Cuban tamales, and croquettes, hot, gooey, crispy fried cheese balls with small pieces of ham thrown inside. Sensing a theme? Pork is the meat of choice on the island.
Dinner: Sit Down and Savor It
Ajiaco is a soup that every Grandma on the island specializes in and, probably, spends the entire day making. For a first-timer to Cuba, it’s the greatest introduction to the local cuisine and hospitality you can find. Featuring pork, rice, pumpkin, and various root vegetables, the hearty stew has a pleasant kick of spice that’ll leave you begging for more.
For Special Occasions: Go Big or Go Home
You know Cubans are having a party when they decide to roast a pig. Lechon asado is a melt-in-your-mouth pork roasted over a fire pit with extra crispy skin that’s perfectly complemented by a spicy mojo sauce. The best part? Leftovers.
Late Night Snack: A (Real) Cuban Sandwich
It’s not a myth. The Cuban sandwich really is one of the most traditional meals you can savor. The crusty baguette balances layers of pork, cheese, and pickles for a sweet and savory mix. After a night of drinking, it’s easily one of the best midnight snacks.
Don’t Miss the Street Food
Picture America’s favorite state fair foods available on every street corner. Golden-fried churros are the go-tos, but if you don’t mind exploring, try to find corn on the cob rolled in cojita cheese and paprika topped with just a spritz of lime juice.