Cuban Foods & Culture Information
by Betty Rodriguez-Hakes
I was born and raised in a loving home filled with love, faith and lots of Cuban Food! It was an environment where Family always came first.
My mother and father were born and raised in Cuba and immigrated to the United States independently in their early to mid 20’s respectively. They met in Miami, FL and started a family which includes myself, my two siblings and my grandmother on my mother’s side who always lived with us. As new American’s they also followed American traditions, with a Cuban twist. I remember eating Congri [a black beans and rice dish] during Thanksgiving dinners. I don’t believe the Pilgrims had heard of such a dish but it really didn’t matter. It wasn’t about what we were eating; it was about following the traditions of their new country and giving thanks for all we had.
When I was a child I didn’t think much of the Cuban food or culture, I thought it was the “old way” and chose not to engage. As an adult I began to realize the importance of my culture and treasure the traditions and customary foods.
This little corner of my website is for those who want to learn about my Cuban heritage, foods and customs. Although born and raised in the United States of America, the Spanish blood that runs through my heart will never allow me to escape the passion & energy I inherited from my Cuban and Spaniard ancestors. Buen Provecho mis amigo, I hope you find this information useful.
Typically Cuban food is based on citrus flavors and tomato based sauces. Many tropical fruits are used such as mangos, avocados and bananas.
The Cuban tongue longs for very sweet desserts, typically Flan, Churros or Natilla. Within this website I have several Cuban recipes, many of which I have tried to adjust to be either healthier and/or easier to make.
Browse through and let me know what you’ve tried and how you like it. You can also post a picture of your Cuban creation on my GourmetBetty Fan Facebook page.
Desayuno: Breakfast typically starts with Cafe con Leche (Espresso with milk & sugar) and toasted Cuban bread with butter. Dipping the toasted Cuban bread in the Café con Leche is a must… and brings back such sweet memories.
Almuerzo: Lunch is usually in the late afternoon, between 1 and 2 pm. This is the main meal where you’ll eat a 3-course meal. A typical meal starts with a Tomato and Avocado Salad, followed by a meat dish and perhaps some black beans and rice.
Cena: Dinner is a lighter meal, such as a sandwich or some cheese and chorizo. Many Cubans end their evening with a shot of Cuban coffee (espresso) or perhaps a slice of Flan or some ice cream with Spanish Rolled Cookies.
There are many Cuban traditions that were and still are celebrated in the US. Some are more popular than others.
New Years Eve
As a child growing up in Miami, Florida, every New Year’s Eve we would gather with my mother and grandmother and separate out 12 red grapes for all the guests. We usually had lots of family and friends over for the holidays.
At the strike of mid-night we would drink a low-alcoholic cider, called “Sidra” and each person would eat the 12 grapes. As you eat each one you ask for a wish for the upcoming year. My aunt says: “Un deso por uva” (a wish for each grape).
As a young adult who started to spend New Year’s away from the family I realized that not many people followed this ‘grape eating tradition’. Especially after I left Miami, I got away from the tradition too. Once I was in my 30 something’s, I re-started the tradition of eating 12 grapes at midnight – with a wish for each.
A little history of how this tradition started in Spain (information from my friends at the Cuban Food Group):
“As the story goes, early in the 20th century, freak weather conditions resulted in an unseasonable excess of harvest of grapes. At a loss over what to do about so many grapes at Christmas time, the grape growers came up with the idea of the New Year ritual. It doesn’t matter how it got started but now a lot of us are eating grapes on New Year’s Eve and it is a fun tradition to do with our kids.”
Christmas Eve is a big celebration that starts late and goes late into the night. It starts with the men of the family building (or purchasing) a pit (or ‘caja china’) in where a whole pig is slowly roasted.
I remember my grandmother seasoning and marinated the huge pig in the kitchen. Honestly, I don’t believe I’ll ever forget that image! As a child and teenager I thought it was disgusting to see this huge pig spread across the kitchen counter.
My father would then start to cook the pig at about 5 or 6 in the morning in a self-built Caja China in our back yard. The pig would cook slowly throughout the day. With today’s advances, my brother in law purchased a metal pit in which to cook the pig this year (2005).
Growing up we always celebrated Christmas. Although, my grandmother would tell us stories of how she celebrated the Three Kings Day when she was a child. She continued that tradition with us with a very small gift when we were kids, but that is something we slowly phased out.
We didn’t grow up in a house full of riches, but we very blessed. My siblings and I woke up early Christmas morning to find unwrapped toys in the living room from Santa. After we would play with our toys, we would then prepare for all the family to come to visit. Depending on the year, family would come to us or we would go to them, spending the rest of the day eating left over’s and playing with our new found treasures.
Kids birthday’s were usually a family event! On average there were more adults than kids, and everyone from family and friends were in attendance. No invitations were sent out, only phone calls letting the family know what time and date the party was. We would all get dressed up, especially the little girls with very frilly dresses — and we would have a huge Cuban Style cake. There were no special or expensive games, just the kids playing, dancing and eating while the adults eating and chit chatting. I really miss this in today’s society and living in the mid-west. I always found it so odd that the parents would just drop off their 5 year old at my house for a kids party. 🙂
Growing up in a Cuban-American Home
Anyone who grew up in Miami, FL around the 70’s , usually knows about “Que Pasa USA?”. This was a PBS show about a Cuban American family. And although, some things were slightly exaggerated, much of it was a true depiction of what it was like to grow up in America with parents who held on to their Cuban culture. My parents are very patriotic and felt very much like Americans… however, when it came to the social culture, they were very Cuban. They were strict and over-protective (can anybody say Chaperone!). And that’s just the way it was, and for the most part we didn’t challenge it too much.
Family Always Comes First
The family unit is the cornerstone of our lives, and includes more than just your spouse and children. When a Cuban refers to “family”, they usually mean children, parents grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. It’s never a small or intimate family affair. As I kid I thought it was annoying to have the house filled with people all the time, today, I treasure every loud moment. I am truly blessed to have been raised with strong family ties and conviction to put family first.
Today I continue to keep family close and share Love to those who surround me… one dish at a time.