When I’m traveling, I’m not much of an adventurous eater unless it comes to dessert food. In Thailand, it was mango sticky rice, in Ghana it was kelewele, Paris it was crepes and gelato….I could go on. With that said, Havana is no different and maybe a bit worse because sugarcane is such a major crop, and I’m here doing fieldwork for at least a year. Not only are the sweets here readily available, but they are also extremely cheap! I haven’t tried everything, but I’m already starting to developing my favorites and hoping that people at the various stands/stores don’t start to remember my face. Here’s a quick run down of my sweetest indulgences. (1MN=.04 USD)
Guarapo (2 MN)
Guarapo is sugar cane juice. In lots of places, you can see them put the sugar cane through the press right in front of you. It’s actually not cloying sweat, but actually kind of light and refreshing. The more that I get acquainted with the area, I really hate to see how high these get marked up in more touristy areas (people pay upwards of 25 MN for small cup), so you have to know where to go to get the most bang for your peso.
Congrejitos (1 MN)
This is new to me–a friend introduced me earlier this month, and I’m pretty much addicted. It’s just fried dough and insufficiently (in my opinion) stuffed with guava paste, but I’m hooked. They don’t taste amazing, but when they’re fresh and have a decent amount of filling–son riquísimos! I think they guy who works at the stand might be interested, but he’s never once given me an extra congrejito–so…..
Helado (1-15 MN)
I haven’t had ice cream that I didn’t like. So far, some of my favorite flavors that I’ve encountered include: almond, strawberry with chocolate, and vanilla. I know that there’s a food shortage going on, but something tells me that ice cream will be one of the last things to go.
Mani Molido (12 MN)
Since my first trip to Cuba in 2011, mani molido has been my go to sweet treat. I try not to buy it too often because I really have no self control when it comes to this mix of ground peanuts and sugar. I can eat a large bar about 10 inches long in 2 days.
Cake (5-24 MN)
Rounding out the list is cake. There’s an assortment of pastries for sale (tres leches, chocolate, guava, etc.) that you can find in varying quality across the city. It’s easy to pick up a slice and continue walking or sit and people watch because you’ve bought two slices and don’t want to drop them (usually the case).
So…that’s what I’m eating, when I’m hot, stressed or just want a quick snack. I’m praying for discipline in the next few months that I can be mindful about how many of these sweets I’m actually consuming. It’s great that I’m working out regularly, but I know that my teeth are going to suffer, if I’m not careful.
If you’ve been to Cuba, what were you favorite sweet treats? What were your favorite sweets in the places that you’ve traveled?
*The economic future of Cuba is worsening, and one of the ways this is most evident is in the rationing of major food staples like chicken, eggs, cooking oil. In no way is this post meant to make light of this situation. I recognize that as a non-citizen, I have the economic means to eat better than most, even despite the shortages.