If you aren’t lucky enough to be traveling to Havana right now, where can you get the best Cuban food here in the States? For most Americans, the closest thing to authentic Cuban cuisine can be found in Miami, Florida, only 90 miles from Cuba. The majority of the United States’ 1.24 million Cuban immigrants live in South Florida, bringing spicy and flavorful inspiration to the cuisine of the Sunshine State.
“Food is an important way that we can keep our cultural connections alive,” says Amalia Moreno-Damgaard, award-winning author, chef and Latin food and culture consultant. “Beginning with the native Tainos, who were on the island before colonization, there are many different influences on Cuban food. Once you understand all those influences, you will have a richer understanding of the cuisine.”
One of the “base” dishes in Cuban cooking is “Moros y Cristianos,” black beans and rice, which literally translates to “Moors and Christians.” Another must for a well-stocked Cuban kitchen is a supply of plantains. “The green ones are made into chips, or are shredded and fried into fritters,” Moreno-Damgaard says. “Ripe ones are pan-fried and served as a side dish.” Cuban sofrito, a base for rice dishes, soups, salsas and stews, usually contains onions, garlic, green bell peppers, tomatoes and more.
The predominant protein in classic Cuban cooking is pork, marinated in garlic-based mojo sauce and roasted. It’s a star ingredient in Cuban pressed sandwiches, which are traditionally made with roast pork, ham, pickles, mustard, and perhaps Swiss cheese, assembled on special bread, grilled and pressed. For operators who would like to add some Cuban classics to their menus, she suggests that Cuban roast pork would be an excellent start. “It’s always good to begin with something customers will be familiar with, and who doesn’t love roast pork? You can serve it as a pressed sandwich with a side of plantain chips at lunch, and then perhaps turn that same roast pork into a dinner special with black beans, rice and ripe plantains for your evening service,” Moreon-Damgaard says.
Amalia’s Miami-Cuban picks
If a trip to Havana isn’t in your future, but a trip to Miami is, be sure to check out these picks from Chef Moreno-Damgaard.
“They serve freshly squeezed sugarcane on the rocks, which is incredibly refreshing on a hot Miami day,” Moreno-Damgaard says. With nine locations, including Mercy Hospital and the airport, you’ll have plenty of chances to stop in for an authentic Cuban meal.
Owned by singer Gloria and Emilio Estefan, this longtime hotspot serves Cuban cuisine in a tropical deco setting.