By Julie Landry Laviolette
Want to try Cuban food, but don’t know what to order beyond the well-loved standard, the quintessential Cuban sandwich?
Here’s the good news: Cuban chefs have lots of tasty treats up their (guayabera) sleeves.
Let’s go through the basics of Cuban food. It’s as easy as uno, dos, tres.
If you’re not familiar with Cuban cuisine, a Cuban sandwich is made with roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard on soft Cuban bread. But’s it’s not your average sub. A hot press is used to squish the sandwich, crisping the bread and melting the cheese.
For a twist, try a medianoche, (which means “midnight.”) It has the same fillings, but it’s a little smaller and made on a sweet egg dough bread similar to challah.
Need a snack? Head to a Cuban bakery for bocaditos, tiny deviled ham and cream cheese spread sandwiches on soft dinner rolls. They’re sold by the dozen, so it’s perfect for a group.
Croquetas are crispy breaded and fried appetizers stuffed with a creamy ham or chicken filling.
Don’t let the ropa vieja name fool you. Though the dish’s name literally means “old clothes,” it’s a savory Cuban dish of shredded beef cooked down in a sauce of tomatoes, peppers and onions.
Vaca frita, or “fried cow,” is a close cousin of ropa vieja, but the beef is marinated in lime and garlic, then seared until crispy.
Not a beef fan? Arroz con pollo is a one-pot meal that pairs chicken with seasoned rice.
Lechon asado is a citrus-marinated roasted pork.
Starchy sides are well loved in Cuban cuisine. Besides traditional black beans and rice, there is a baked, drier mixture of the two called congri.
Yuca, a root vegetable, is a favorite alternative to a potato.
Green plantains, a banana-like fruit that is not as sweet, are flattened and deep-fried into tostones.
Ripe plantains are slow-fried until they are carmelized to make a sweeter version called maduros.
There’s plenty to satisfy a sweet touch at a Cuban cuisine. Sink your teeth into a pastelito, a baked puff pastry stuffed with sweet or savory fillings, such as guava and cream cheese.
Try Tres Leches, a cake soaked in three kinds of milk – evaporated milk, condensed milk and heavy cream – or swoon over a delicate flan, an egg custard drenched in caramel.
Get your morning jolt with Cuban coffee, a strong espresso with a hearty helping of sugar. Order a cafecito or café Cubano for a shot in a demitasse cup.
If you don’t want to start with the strong stuff, ask for a café con leche, which is served with milk.
Soda lovers will want to try herb-based Materva, or satisfy the sweet tooth with Jupina, a tropical pineapple soda or Ironbeer soda, a fruitier, Dr. Pepper-like drink.
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