exploring Cuban cuisine in Baracoa

In my previous post, I shared with you the excitement and trepidation of journeying along La Farola as we headed toward Baracoa. It was indeed worth the fear of facing the countless hairpin curves that led us to the Baracoa, Cuba’s first European settlement. In this post, I’d like to give you a taste of Baracoa, to overthrow the myth that Cuban cuisine is dull and boring.

baracoa-cuba

Don’t miss the statue of explorer Christopher Columbus on the Malecon in Baracoa, Cuba.

Cuba had been settled by the Tainos indigenous people who called their settlement Baracoa (meaning “beside the sea.”) Christopher Columbus landed on this site in 1492 and dubbed the site as “Porto Santo.” It was later renamed “Our Lady of the Assumption” by the Spanish in 1510 but the indigenous name took precedence when Cuba achieved its independence.

baracoa-fort

This map of Baracoa shows the site of La Punta fort that protected Eastern Cuba from pirates.

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La Punta is the site of an 18th century fortress, and now, Restaurante La Punta, a place where you can enjoy good food and live or recorded Cuban music while in Baracoa.

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A view of the Bay of Baracoa from La Punta, with El Yunque off to the right, the landmark table-top mountain of Baracoa.

One of the must-see attractions in Baracoa is La Punta, the site of an 18th century fortress located on the Bay of Baracoa that is now run as a seaside restaurant where I enjoyed a lunch and dinner while in town. The views from La Punta are breathtaking, and the food is good, too. I enjoyed a lunch of roast pork, a dinner of sautéed shrimp, and a fabulous dessert that featured a dark chocolate leaf and a burnt sugar bowl filled with chocolate ice-cream that was a chocolate lover’s delight.

la-punta-baracoa

This dessert at Restaurante La Punta was a chocolate lover’s dream, with a dark chocolate leaf, a burnt sugar bowl, and chocolate ice-cream that were a delight to admire, and even better to enjoy.

enjoy authentic cuban cuisine at any of the casa privalos (privately owned and operated restaurants)

Another independent restaurant (paladares) that I thoroughly enjoyed in Baracoa was Restaurante Calalú where I experienced some local cocoa cuisine. Restaurante Calalú offers grilled chicken or roasted pork with a cocoa sauce (salsa de cacao) featuring pure cocoa powder mixed with water. It was tasty, savoury, and not sweet at all. This is one of the best and busiest restaurants in downtown Baracoa (7-8 pm is the busiest hour) so be sure to consider that in your plans.

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Restaurante Calalú is one of Baracoa’s finest restaurants and features cocoa cuisine.

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Calalú is a regional specialty of Eastern Cuba that is a vegetable stew somewhat like ratatouille. The one we enjoyed at Restaurante Calalú featured teti (a tiny seasonal fish) on the left hand side of the dish and was especially delicious.

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I appreciated both the artistry and the freshness of the salad I was served at Restaurante Calalú.

cocoa-cuisine

I really enjoyed the grilled chicken served with the salsa de cacao at Restaurante Calalú in Baracoa.

I hope this post has helped dispel the myth that Cuban cuisine is not worthy of your attention. It truly is. But you must remember that to experience it, you have to get away from the beaches and buffets of the tourist resorts and get yourself to one of the paladares located throughout Cuba. Or stay at one of the fabulous casa particulares such as Villa Paradiso Baracoa, where I also enjoyed some tremendous–and authentic–meals during my stay.

Thanks so much to the Cuban Tourism Commission for covering the costs of my travel and providing me with an amazing guide and driver for the duration of my stay.

 

 

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

46 Responses

  1. Donna Meyer
    Twitter:
    says:

    The name of the town kept making me thinking of Barbacoa… so food was already on my mind. That cocoa sauce looks kind of fascinating.

  2. Thanks for this great post, Doreen. Baracoa has quite a special culinary scene, indeed – from the peasant families with their incredibly tasty authentic dishes to the most-creative-yet-grounded-in-tradition chefs. The range of ingredients and spices used in our region is not found anywhere else in Cuba and we are really glad that you were able to sample some of the delightful local cuisine. Thanks as well for having mentioned us as a place to enjoy good food here in Baracoa – hopefully you don’t mind if we leave here a link to our blog post regarding our cuisine. All the best from Baracoa and thank you again! https://villaparadisobaracoa.com/en/villa-paradisos-cuisine-tradition-innovation/

  3. Janet says:

    Is that half an old ship? Do you have any info on the boat?

  4. Linda Paul
    Twitter:
    says:

    Funny, I have heard only fine things about Cuban cuisine. We have a small, family run Cuban restaurant here in town. I’ve often wondered how authentic it is. I’ve never seen any of these cool dishes that you featured on their menu. But their food is good. Lots of pork, black beans, plantains, and I think they have something made from cactus on the menu. But I don’t remember for sure. That chicken with cocoa looks incredible, as does the mixed vegetable dish.

    • Indeed, Linda. Authentic Cuban food nearly always includes plantains, beans of various types, rice, and pork or chicken. But always grilled or seasoned nicely. It is the food at the tourist resorts that often leaves much to be desired, as so often it is sterile and lacks character. Eating at the independent ‘paladares’ changes all that. 🙂

  5. Calalu sounds so enticing and healthy. It sounds like a Filipino vegetable dish called pinakbet served with a tasty fish on the side. I don’t know if I will like the salsa de cacao in my pork though.

  6. Linda Strange says:

    Hi Doreen: I remember remarks years ago from tourists who wished they had ventured off their beach resorts with the endless, boring chicken . Had they only known about Baracoa !
    I also imagine things have changed in Cuba since they were there. In those days I don’t recall hearing about privalos and paladares. (I just love trying to pronounce Spanish languages.) Thanks for this.

    • Hi Linda and thanks for your thoughtful comment. Yes, I think things have opened up as far as tourism options go in Cuba. There are now options for every interest and budget and I’m very grateful in having had the opportunity to try them out. 🙂

  7. One of the best meals I had in Cuba was in a casa particulares, fish as fresh as could be. What you’ve said is so true. If you get off the tourist track, there is plenty of good food to be found in Cuba!

  8. Lori
    Twitter:
    says:

    Oooo, that grilled chicken with cacao sauce looked really good. I’ve enjoyed your Cuba series and put it on my list for 2019 to make it happen — not sure how we’ll get around the US restrictions, but I’m determined. That good food awaits! 😉

  9. I had never heard of privalos. Are they all small and quite modest?

  10. Wow, that chocolate ice cream and pork with cocoa sauce sound delish! And so do most of the other items.

  11. Beverly says:

    The dessert with chocolate ice cream looked delicious as did all the fish dishes. I am so glad you have shared all these culinary delights with your readers. For any of your readers planning to travel to Cuba, your article has offered valuable ideas about food choices while visiting Cuba. Thanks, Doreen, for another fascinating article about Cuba.

  12. With that bevy of former Canadian colleagues resounding in my head, I heard all about the delicious food of Cuba.Your pictures have me absolutely salivating. Yum!

  13. Delahaye
    Twitter:
    says:

    Cuba is on my list of countries to visit next year and with all that delicious food to try. This post will make me keep in mind what foods to try.

  14. I really want to try some savoury chocolate cuisine! That vegetable stew looks pretty good too…

  15. sanbrains says:

    The dessert with chocolate ice cream looked delicious as did all the fish dishes. I am so glad you have shared all these culinary delights with your readers. For any of your readers planning to travel to Cuba, your article has offered valuable ideas about food choices while visiting Cuba. Thankyou.

  16. Michele
    Twitter:
    says:

    I love the sound of the cuisine at Restaurante Calalú … the salsa de cacao sounds amazing

  17. I never thought Cuban cuisine would be boring, but I’ve never been to Cuba! I imagined a cross between Latin American and Caribbean influences, and lots of seafood. Anyway, the meals you describe and show here look amazing! That savory cocoa sauce, though … it somehow doesn’t seem right to have chocolate that’s not sweet!

  18. I didn’t get to that part of Cuba, but I loved seeing the off-the-beaten path places. We rented a car, and while there were some challenges with lack of signing and directions, getting lost was part of the adventure!

  19. Sue Reddel
    Twitter:
    says:

    What a perfect Cuban experience you had Doreen. I love all the dishes that you sampled with cocoa. I have to say that we also had so many wonderful meals in Cuba when we went a few years back. It’s a wonderful destination I hope we get to return and experience Baracoa one day.

  20. Wow, the food does look really interesting! 🙂
    I wonder if I’d be able to find much vegetarian fare here, though.

  21. Amrita
    Twitter:
    says:

    It was good to read about the history of Baracoa. And the food surely looks amazing. Being a chocolate lover myself, I would love to have the yummy dessert. The picture itself looked so tempting!

  22. Shaily
    Twitter:
    says:

    Wow! All these dishes look tempting and very flavourful. I love that grilled chicken with cacao sauce – looks and sounds delicious!

  23. Miss Hoa
    Twitter:
    says:

    I come from Vietnam. I love the cuban country. I am proud of this country during the war years. I want to visit your country and especially want to enjoy some great food.

  24. phúc nguyên
    Twitter:
    says:

    Thank you for sharing. It helped me understand much more about Cuba and know Cuba’s culinary culture. If I have the opportunity to visit this beautiful country I will try the dishes that you introduced. I hope you have more stories to share so that people can learn.

  25. manish kumar says:

    Great! All these dishes look tempting and very flavourful. I love that grilled chicken with cacao sauce looks and sounds delicious!

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