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Cuban Cuisine (la cocina cubana)


Cuban cuisine is the result of the mixing of Spanish, aboriginal, African and Caribbean cuisines.

The aboriginal cuisine still remains among Cubans. Columbus and his sailors, for the first time tasted corn, cassava, peanuts, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, peppers, “yautía” (a kind of wild malanga) and other gifts of the flora, in Cuba. Here they ate hutia (a kind of rodent) and knew of new fruits such as custard apples, soursops, pineapples, star apples, mammees, anonas, icaco plums, guavas, cashews, etc. Part of the aboriginal people's legacy is the cassava bread and the “ajiaco”.

The Cuban Indians fished and hunted. There was a variety of fish and seafood in the lagoons and rivers and a climate where people didn't need to store food. Even if they had wanted to, the humidity and the heat worked against it for the stored grain was quickly spoiled.

The Spaniards, when they arrived, on top of using the sources of proteins they found here, brought and reared poultry, cattle, pigs and horses, all of which developed colossally well. Cuba became a livestock producing giant and, in a few years, pork was the meat of choice for the Cuban landlords who also obtained fat from it. To feed the Africans, yams, malangas, several kinds of bananas and plantains and the okra were acclimatized. Guinea fowls were also brought.

From Africa we got the yam, the malanga, the banana and plantain, the okra, the guinea fowl and dishes such as fufú (mashed plantains) and the tostones (green plantains smashed and twice-fried). From the African culture we also received our preference for white rice eaten with all the other foods, the fritters and the sauces.

The Spaniards from the south of the peninsula, that were usually the ones that came to the island during the first centuries of the colony, also liked fried food. Andalusia is an area were fried stuff is pervasive. The massive arrival of Spaniards of Catalonian culture reinforced the intake of rice.

The east of Spain is a rice area among the culinary regions of that country. The Cuban cuisine had as its foundation the broad and varied Spanish cuisine which is a summing up of regional cuisines. This is a common phenomenon in the Hispanic Caribbean.

The deep links among Caribbean lands are reflected on the existence in the whole area of recipes from different regions. In spite of the “congrí” or “moros y cristianos”(moors and christians) being so Cuban, the name “congrí” is originally from Haiti. There, the red kidney beans are called “kongo” and the rice “ri”. So the name comes from the Haitian Creole, meaning red kidney beans with rice. “Congrí” is not the same as moors and Christians as we usually call the rice cooked with black beans in Cuba.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the heavy Spanish immigration, now made up mostly of northern Spaniards, made the Cuban gastronomy and cuisine even more markedly Spanish. In the gastronomy, the Spaniards took up posts as cooks in restaurants and family homes. In the cuisine they introduced the chick-pea stew, the bean stew, the sausages ... The Cubans on their part began to take fat, chorizo sausages, bacon and cabbages out of the bean stew and the Galician bouillon. The Cuban bean soups ended up just being made with brisket, potatoes and a sauce.

The most characteristic feature of Cuban cuisine is this mixture where the tomato sauce with few sautéed spices or Cuban sauce stands over the rest of the ingredients. There is a Cuban way of cooking: natural, with very specific ingredients, scarce spices (among their pillars are the oregano and the cumin), that limits or banishes the use of pepper and other hot spices. The Cuban cooking way, that identifies its cuisine, is frying. The Cuban food is sweet; it has sauces or stews to let us soak the rice because we don't like dry meals and includes rice-based dishes.

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