Dec
04
2012

Cuisine and culture in Little Havana

Where would Miami be without its Cuban influence?

Miami, Fla., isn’t just about beaches and pools, shopping and clubbing. It’s also a haven for foodies. If you’re feeling adventurous—and hungry—sign up for a culinary and cultural crawl in the famous Calle Ocho area of Little Havana, a bustling neighbourhood that’s home to thousands of immigrants from Cuba and all over Latin America.

Some of Miami’s best cuisine is served from cafeterias or street windows at Little Havana’s mom-and-pop cafés. But here’s a tip: figure out what you want to order before sidling up to a window, otherwise Mom or Pop will likely bark Quién sigue? (“Who’s next?”) to the locals jostling behind you. (The whole point of cafeterias is fast service.)

Tour guide Corinna Moebius will advise you to bring proper walking shoes and an appetite. You’ll need both; the three-hour outing comprises a multi-course menu of food, customs and culture. No matter where you roam, the aromas of roasted pork and cigars fill the air. Not even in the original Havana are you likely to try so many traditional and rustic delicacies in one afternoon. (littlehavanaguide.com)

El Cristo Restaurant

Sidle up to the ventana for a cafecitos, a cup of hot, sweet rocket fuel, usually served up in a tiny plastic cup. Or try a cortadito (small cut), sweetened espresso mixed with steamed milk. No matter how it’s poured, Cuban coffee is guaranteed to keep you chatting rápido with your new foodie friends. Besides great coffee, El Cristo has great Cuban food, refreshing limonada (limeade) and outdoor seating with a lovely view of Calle Ocho.

El Pub Restaurant

Enjoy a media noche at this traditional eatery. While similar to a Cuban sandwich, the media noche is made with a sweeter, denser egg-based bread, as well as roasted pork, ham, pickles, mustard and Swiss cheese. Delicious.

Cuba Tobacco Cigar Company

Get a fascinating history lesson and cigar-rolling demonstration at this family owned and operated shop. Buy a box of puros and be sure to save the cigar box label—it’s worth framing. The tobacco here comes from Cuban seed but most is grown in Central America or the Dominican Republic, due to a trade embargo the US has maintained against Cuba—and its cigars—since 1960.

Yisell Bakery

Point and order. The shape of a Cuban pastel or pastelito (pastry) indicates its filling: a triangle has guava and cream cheese filling; a circle is filled with ground beef; and a square means guava on its own.

Los Pinareños Fruteria

This open-air fruit market is where Cuban exiles wax nostalgic. Try a refreshing coco frio—a chilled coconut with a machete-carved opening for a straw. For something unique, go for a Mamey fruit smoothie which features notes of melon, pumpkin, almond and banana. “Mi-yummy,” as one local describes it.

El Nuevo Siglo

Go directly to the Argentinean bakery at the back of this grocery store for the half-moon empanadas, featuring the flakiest of dough and a variety of fillings, from seasoned ground beef to humita, a filling that includes fresh sweet corn. Muy bueno!

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