One thing I learned while cooking Cuban food is that Cubans are more proud to be Cuban than any other nationality I’ve encountered so far. It was incredible to see the culture and the pride that comes from Cuban kitchens, whether they be in the country, in the USA, or somewhere else altogether.
Many of the foods that I made from Cuba (like the Cuban Medianoche Sandwich or Black Beans) were things that I had eaten before, normally in Miami. I have been a fan of Cuban cuisine for a long time, so finally learning how to make some of it for myself was a real treat.
A few months before cooking Cuba, I met Jamie Silva, the Cuban food blogger behind A Sassy Spoon, at the 2019 Saveur Blog Awards. We had both been nominated for an award by Saveur Magazine, and spent a weekend in Ohio with the magazine. We met on a day excursion and bonded over a steaming plate of Cincinnati-famous Skyline Chili.
Since meeting, Jamie has been a great food blog friend and mentor to me, answering whatever questions I may have. It was such a pleasure speaking to Jamie about the food she is passionate about, and learning about the food of Cuba from her perspective!
Tell me about your history with Cuba and your family’s history with it
I was not born in Cuba, however my parents were born in Banes which is a small city in the province of Oriente. I’ve sadly never been able to go visit Cuba or my family due to all the legalities with the country.
My family grew up very poor and without much given to them. Everything was a sacrifice and a struggle, even food. They came to this country in the early 70s on a visa during a time when it was allowed to leave/transfer out of the country.
My mom’s entire family is still in Cuba. My father’s side of the family all came around the same time (late 60s / early 70s) to this country.
I can’t even imagine how hard it must’ve been for my mom, living in a foreign country where she didn’t know the language, away from her family. It was common for people back then to leave everything behind in search of a better life.
Tell me about the difference between Cuban Food and Cuban American food.
Miami is a melting pot of culture and cuisine so you’ll find pretty much all types of different Latin food here. Cuban food is obviously more prominent however it’s hard for me to compare since I’ve never been to Cuba.
My parents will tell you the food was way better in Cuba. They say everything was natural, not processed, and grown in the country. Maybe they’re biased lol
Whenever I’ve traveled out of Miami, even to different parts of Florida, I can always tell the difference in flavor at Cuban restaurants. It’s not as flavorful, kinda bland and boring. Cuban coffee is not made well. Maybe I’m biased too!
How does Cuban Food differ from other countries in the Caribbean and how is it the same?
Cuban food is made up of African, Caribbean, and Spanish cuisines. There are a lot of commonalities with the types of foods we enjoy like plantains, rice, beans, fish, and tropical fruits, however they are usually cooked differently.
Cuban recipes are usually slow-cooked, sauteed, and/or tomato-based with spices like cumin, oregano, and bay leaves. Caribbean food is flavorful in their own unique ways.
I’d say the main difference between both Caribbean and Cuban cuisine would be that Cuban food is never spicy. Cuban food is more citrusy and there are a few similarities to Dominican and Puertorican cuisines too.
Tell me about the food in Cuba. What types of meat are common to eat? What vegetables?
From what I understand, it all depends on what’s available. Not all foods are available at all times in the country. There is a lot of scarcity especially now during the pandemic. As far as vegetables, I’d say root vegetables are the most common – yuca, malanga, plantains.
What are your everyday Cuban foods? What types of things are common for breakfasts, dinners, snacks?
Rice and plantains are staples in my everyday life. Cuban breakfast is my favorite breakfast – pastelitos, croquetas, Cuban bread, Cuban coffee. I was born enjoying these foods so I can very well be biased too haha.
Cafe con leche (Cuban coffee with frothy whole milk) would probably be the most common breakfast beverage. Cuban coffee (straight-up strong espresso with sugar) comes in a close second.
Snacks are usually a tropical fruit based pastry like pastelitos de guayaba or shortbread cookies (which have a hint of lime) or even a custard-based dessert like flan. Desserts and snacks kind of go hand-in-hand.
For dinner, there’s steak, chicken, pork, usually marinated in a mojo which is a citrus-garlic marinade and then served with a side of plantains, rice and beans.
It’s also very common here in Miami to walk up to a ventanita (translation: “little window” – ventanitas are windows on the side of restaurants or bakeries where you can pick up Cuban goodies to go). You ask for a coffee and a few ham croquetas to enjoy outside. We make conversation with strangers around us and then ordering a colada to go.
Coladas are strong Cuban coffee with sugar foam with little coffee cups meant for sharing. I’ve shown that a few times on IG Stories how walking into a nail/hair salon or doctor’s office with a colada to offer strangers some coffee is the norm here. It is one of my favorite traditions.
Is there anything eaten in Cuba that’s not eaten anywhere else in the world? Anything surprising?
I would say there isn’t really anything different but it just boils down to how it’s cooked. For example, plantains are common in our culture but in Caribbean cuisine, plantains are cooked way differently than in Latin cuisine.
What’s your very favorite recipe from Cuba? What is your least favorite food that is traditionally Cuban?
When it comes to Cuban food, I love me a palomilla steak with congri and maduros. Another favorite is a pan con bistec (steak sandwich), however I’m not picky. I love all Cuban food. I can’t even think of a least favorite because I truly have enjoyed all of it.
Tell me about your food blog! Why you started it, what it features, etc.
A Sassy Spoon is a food blog inspiring home cooks to make comfort food recipes, Latin staples, and sweet treats in their own kitchens. A lot of my recipes are comfort foods with some kind of Latin twist which is what I feel sets me apart from other blogs.
When I quit my full-time job in 2016 without a backup plan, I began looking for a career that would be fulfilling, challenging, rewarding, never boring, and offered the freedom and flexibility I had always searched for in a job. I found that with blogging and I absolutely love what I do. I also get to share family recipes like my mom’s Camarones Enchilados (link) which is a flavorful shrimp creole recipe. That’s my favorite part of blogging… bringing a taste to my own culture to any comfort food recipes.
If you liked this interview with Jamie, you’ll love the Cuban recipes on my site, including: