Cuban Food Concerns? You Gripe, We Resolve

“I find I enjoy even mediocre Cuban food,” writes Rob Gardner at The Local Beet. “I do, however, find three flaws about always with Cuban restaurants.” We put Rob’s list of gripes to Carolina Bolado, who is MenuPages’s South Florida editor and — more importantly — grew up part of a big, food-happy Cuban family. We hope her opinions settle the matter.

“The margarine thing – I guess I’m just a snob, but I really dislike the taste of margarine. Bread always comes with margarine, usually pre-slathered.”
We don’t love margarine, but really, you don’t like the pre-slathered, pressed and toasted slices of bread that come with dinner? They’re totally addictive. If we don’t place the bread at the opposite end of the table, we could end up eating the whole basketful. Is it preferable to some warm rolls with delicious butter? Of course not, but this isn’t high-end cuisine. None of the upscale Cuban restaurants we’ve visited serve the pre-slathered bread. Your solution is to find a place that’s a bit nicer. The downside is that you might end up paying $8 for black beans and rice. Once you’ve made black beans and seen the ingredients that go into it, you realize how much you’re being ripped off.

“Cuban food is nearly all wet. Something like a slab of “palomino” steak still comes in a pool of grease. It just needs rice for mopping. Yet the rice is also there to serve as a base for the beans. I just never have enough rice.”
Yes, Cubans typically use rice just as a base for beans or picadillo. If you enjoy eating it with other parts of the meal, then there’s a very simple solution: ask for an extra order of rice. Also, you’re probably referring to bistec de palomilla (not palomino), a steak pounded very thin and sauteed with garlic and onions.

“[Cuban food] calls out for a spicy condiment – Cubans do not generally eat hot foods, and there is no table salsa, chimichurri or the like that comes with the foods. But there should! Everything we had today, and nearly anything on a Cuban menu, would go better with a hot sauce. My wife suggests maybe we smuggle some in next time we eat Cuban food.”
You know, these aren’t flaws with Cuban restaurants; they’re perceived flaws with Cuban cuisine in general. It’s true — Cubans, for the most part, don’t eat spicy foods. Hot peppers grow very well on the island, but people don’t really use them. If you feel that the food would be better with a condiment, well, you suggested your own remedy: BYO hot sauce. No one will care if you douse your palomilla in it.

It’s worth noting that Cubans in Miami use chimichurri all the time. They’ve borrowed it from the local Argentinian population. But salsa and hot sauce? That’s not going to happen. Too spicy.

“[My wife] grew up in Miami … In those halcyon days of yore, she always got chopped onions for her black beans. She expects, nay believes, that is the way they should be served. She always has to ask for them around here, and many a-time, it takes several asks.”
Hmm. Most black beans we’ve been served (and given that we grew up in a Cuban family in Miami, that’s a lot) have come sans onions. We’ve enjoyed them on occasion with chopped raw onions too, although to be honest, if the beans are good, the onions are totally unnecessary.


[Pictured: Sandwiches at 90 Miles Cuban Cafe; photo by Martha Williams for Time Out Chicago]

Cuban Food Concerns? You Gripe, We Resolve