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Cuba Day 3: Cuban food

· Travel journal,Cuba,Joey

Today Iris and I decided to have a more chilled day after walking over 20,000 steps the day before. Our friends were arriving that evening and we'd agreed before we left to meet up for dinner at a restaurant near their casa. We'd take it easy and explore the Vedado neighbourhood until then.


For breakfast, we wanted to try out something that the locals might eat. We found a small hole-in-the-wall type café and ordered two coffees. To our surprise (and delight!) it was 2 CUP for both, which is less than 7p! It tasted a bit like a strong instant coffee which had been sweetened. Not the best coffee we've had for sure, but it delivered a (small) dose of caffeine and, taking the price into account, we couldn't complain. I probably could have had about five or six of those, but mindful of the sugar we moved on to look for some food.

local coffee in cuba

Iris with her 1 CUP (MN) coffee, served in a cute cup! #HangingWithTheLocals

We didn't fancy the look of the food at the coffee place, which only had ham sandwiches, so we continued our hunt for breakfast. Not too far from the other place, we came across this promising looking place (Pa'Comer Pa'llevar - "To eat, to take away"). This was a bigger place, but similar in layout - customers ordering and eating at the counter. A quick glance at the menu told us that this was a local place, the tell-tale sign being big numbers (above 10) that usually indicates things are priced in CUP / "Moneda Nacional", not the tourist currency CUC.


We ordered one omelette sandwich to share, which came to 15 CUP (under 50p). It was freshly cooked and stuffed in a soft brioche-like roll. Delicious! I'd highly recommend trying breakfasts like this when travelling through Cuba - it's more authentic and you'll save a lot of money (for rum).

A typical café in Havana. If you zoom in you can see the menu on the right hand side, which includes a hamburger for 20 CUP (c. 60p) and a chicken breast meal for 50 CUP (c. £1.50)!

We were still craving more caffeine, as the coffee was quite small, so we popped in for a couple of Americanos at the place we had breakfast yesterday (0.5 CUC each). Our hunger satisfied and finally awake, we strolled around the non-touristy areas of Vedado. It showed us a different side of Havana, away from the touristy areas of Old Town and the hustle and bustle of the main roads that we'd kept to in our previous two days.

We bumped into this lovely man on our walk, who was selling delicious Cuban snacks (2 CUP each) at a small square a couple of blocks from the main road. He was very pleased to meet a couple of Asians from England.

Here we also bought a phone card (5 CUC - so expensive!), thinking we'd use it at the pay phones to get in touch with our friends' casa later to check they'd arrived okay. Most people still use payphones in Cuba, as mobile phones are expensive to acquire, as are the phone calls. Remember when we used to 'missed call' someone and get them to call us back on the landline? The Cubans still do that.

ETECSA phone card

The phone card ("tarjeta de telefono"). We'd worry about figuring out how to use it later...


Approaching early afternoon, we decided to check out Revolution Square. It was a 40-50 minute walk away, and we stopped for lunch at Cafeteria Carmelo on Calle 23, near the Avenida de los Presidentes (Calle G). I'd read about this on someone's blog, who had recommended this for a decent sit down meal.

We each ordered something from the Ofertas ("offers") menu. In Cuba, you'll save yourself a lot of money on food if you stick to the food from the Ofertas (often more than half price). These include staple dishes such as pork chops, pork steaks, chicken breast escalopes, fried chicken leg and ropa vieja (shredded stewed beef with vegatables - my favourite!), all served with rice and beans and sometimes a drink and dessert! In Cuba, due to the limited choice in ingredients and seasoning, price most often does not indicate quality - just a way to get tourists to waste money!

Here, our meal came to under 10 CUC for two meals and a drink each (it's not too early for a Presidente beer right?)

Pollo supreme, a typical dish at Cuban restaurants. Served of course with rice and beans.

Pollo supreme, a typical dish at Cuban restaurants. Served of course with rice and beans, but very few vegetables as is typical of Cuba.

Me doing an advert for a multi-vitamin tablet. Being used to a vegetable-heavy diet, I felt the need to supplement in Cuba...

The Revolution Square was a bit underwhelming. It was pretty quiet, with only a handful of other tourists around and taxi drivers competing to get their attention ("Taxi amigo?"). There were a couple of buildings with faces of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. We took some obligatory selfies and panoramas and headed home for a siesta and some reading.


We'd arranged to meet our friends for dinner between 8pm - 9pm at a restaurant called 'Decameron' near their casa, which was about a 30-40 minute walk away. I was worried that they might not have arrived yet, as their flight was arriving at 5pm and we'd experienced first hand the long delays on arrival at Havana airport on day 1. We decided to put our newly purchased phone card to use. The only problem was, we didn't understand the instructions!

We asked various people on the way to the restaurant, but with little success. (Travel tip: it may just be our limited sample, but we found that young people (<18 years old) aren't as helpful as adults. We only came across those asking for money and those that just shrugged and said that they don't know how to use a payphone, which I found hard to believe.) Finally we bumped into a middle-aged man who told us that the cards are top-up cards for Cuban mobile phones, that can't be used on payphones... Oh well!

After all that faffing, we arrived at the restaurant half an hour late, but our friends weren't to be seen. We (boldly) asked if we could use the phone to call their casa, which they kindly obliged (you don't ask, you don't get). Our friends' casa owner answered the phone, told us that our friends had arrived and passed the phone over! It was so good to hear Andia's voice on the phone - who knew this meeting up business would be so stressful! Apparently one of our friends had gotten sick on the flight and they were all quite tired so were getting ready for bed. We agreed to meet the following day at the same place to get tickets for the bus for our next stop, Vinales.

Iris and I decided to stay for dinner nevertheless, as the place was one of the nicest places we'd seen in Havana. We're so glad we did! The ropa vieja was smashing (check out the fancy plating below) and Iris' pizza was full of precious vegetables and reminded her of the pizzas from back home in Taiwan ("the base tastes different to European pizza").

The food at Decameron is pretty decent! It's a slightly more upmarket place; in fact, western Vedado seemed generally more affluent and the restaurants in the area reflected that.

After a really lovely meal, we called it a night and took a vintage American taxi back to our casa, which the restaurant's doorman grabbed for us (5 CUC; 7 minute ride).

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