Chivirico is a charming little town, just 76 km west of Santiago de Cuba and I could see this being the place where people from Santiago would choose to escape to on the weekend.
I mean, sure, it has pigs roaming around, but they’re pretty cute. Definitely edible, but cute!
The town is small, but it’s funky and has a modern edge to it, with cool murals and modern statues.
It’s right on the water and it has a couple of neat little beaches. Several waterfront restaurants with outdoor seating have great views and really good seafood.
I haven’t really talked much about Cuban food yet, because to be honest Cuban food is not that complex… I can cover it in one blog post and be done with it.
Breakfast: always, I mean always, get your breakfast at the casa you’ll be staying at. There aren’t any “going out” breakfast places that I’ve seen. And no, brunch isn’t a thing.
Breakfast at a casa usually costs 3 CUC. It’s up to the casa hosts to figure out what to serve you. Some breakfasts are more elaborate than others. But mostly they consist of: eggs (mostly omelets), fresh fruit in season, bread (sorry, white bread only. Although some was really good and fresh, while other bread was just eh.), maybe some tomatoes and/or cucumbers, fruit juice and of course, coffee.
Lunch: since most days we were biking, much of our lunches were quick and on the run. Cuban fast food is often pizza.
No, not like a Neapolitan or New York pizza, but the kind of pizza I remember getting in Poland (sorry Poland. I’m outing you now for having horrible pizza). An uninspired crust (previously frozen), some tomato sauce and cheese. Sometimes there would be onions on the pizza. Rejoice! But hey, in Cuba you could get one for 5 MN (or CUP), which is 20 cents. So really, nothing to complain about.
Another quick lunch would be a hot dog. These go for around 40 cents (10 CUP). Or ham and cheese sandwiches, no more than 1 CUC or most likely 20 CUP. When you’re hungry, as we often were, they were all considered delicious!
Dinner: We could explore more and have more choices at mealtime for dinner. Although some of us (you know who you are!) would stay on the safe side and consistently order spaghetti or chicken, I liked to venture out.
Mind you, Cuban menus are never extensive and never try to entice you with flowery descriptions. No lemongrass infused anything. No basil fed snails. No hazelnut dust. Cuban menu would go as follows:
- Pork chop
How is the chicken prepared? What kind of fish is the fish? What are the pork chops served with? Guess you’ll find out once your order arrives!
I really liked the Cuban chicken. Very simple, but mostly it was nice and greasy, sometimes fried. The fish was simply fried as well. And I had some amazing pork chops a few times. On the eastern coast ordering a lobster is a must, as well as shrimp.
Everything is very simply prepared. Cuban spices consist of pepper and garlic (yes, Cubans consider garlic a spice) and I’ve heard rumors of cumin. Despite being a stone throw from the Caribbean spice islands, Cuba is not big on spice. Must be the Russian influence!
As for the side dishes… We always ordered ensalada mixta to ensure we ate some vegetables. The salad most often consisted of shredded cabbage, sliced tomatoes and cucumber slices. Sometimes there would be beets or canned green beans. Served with vinegar and vegetable oil. Ooh, that took me back! I felt like I was visiting my family back in the Soviet Union!
The Cuban must-have is congri. This rice and bean concoction, bound together with ample amounts of lard, is really creamy and delicious. A staple of Cuban diet. I had it as often as I could (one reason I didn’t lose any weight on this bike trip!).
The coastal meals were my favorite. Mostly because I could get an amazing lobster dinner for about 10 CUC!
Desserts: Cubans are all about the ice cream. Unfortunately I don’t have a good photo of the ice cream mania that’s sweeping the island, but trust me, it’s the dessert of choice.
There are these ice cream places that will have a line out the door. A person holds the door open and lets in only a certain number of people inside, so there will be people just sitting nearby all around the block. Most often than not, if you see a long line or a gathering of people (Cubans don’t really queue up. The last person in line is in charge of saying ultimo, so that everyone knows who’s last and who to follow.), it’s ice cream!
The ice cream shops will most often have only one flavor. There are these “flavors of the day”. And once they run out, they run out. If there is no line at an ice cream shop, it means they’re out.
Also, you can get ice cream at supermarkets. They come in huge buckets (pint size? Maybe smaller, but looked big to me.) and people will carry these buckets scooping out ice cream and eating it as they walk. Or they’ll sit in a park. Anyways, most won’t share. That’s a lot of ice cream to consume in one sitting! I’m not a big ice cream fan, so I was horrified to see that!
Anyways, I hardly had any ice cream in Cuba. The ice cream I did have was okay, but like I said, it’s not my dessert of choice.
The food was always fresh and tasty (except for one place we went to in Holguin! I am not sure what the place was called, so I cannot warn you), and I enjoyed every meal (except for that one).
The guide books will try to convince you to seek out paladars (private restaurants often located in people’s homes), and avoid the state run restaurants. State run restaurants are often less expensive though (prices in CUP/MN or meals for around 3 or 4 CUC, as opposed to 6 or 8 CUC in the paladar) and probably my very favorite restaurant is Kasalta (in Havana), which is state run and absolutely fantastic! When in Havana, go check it out. Every taxi driver knows where it is, so take a cab (it’s in Miramar, a bit away from the city center).