We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and cheaply and warm together and loved each other” – Ernest Hemmingway.
So all this makes my latest adventure of going on a roadtrip in Cuba with friends from Panama and France sound super cheap, but even if I can tick the boxes budget-wise, nothing about cruising 12 days through one of the most surprising and again out-of-reality countries I have ever encountered, was cheap.
The trip just added to the fact that traveling is one of the few things in life to spend money on, but it actually makes you richer – may it be excellent company, funny encounters with locals, a glimpse in their lives or simply the deturns you have to take to know that you only get to know a country by going there yourself instead of listeining to other peoples stories and tales.
Dori loves Cuba – and that’s why
Impressions of the first days in Havana included mainly busy atmospheric streets, the snapshots of lives lived out in the open (and without smartphones) and the unmistakable aromas of basically everything, but in a good way. It was loud, it was different and time-worn, but not for a second did I look at the shappy facades and thought they were shabby. They were Havana and they were as normal as the old-timers, the smell of zigars and the music.
Music was a part of our journey – and how did I love it – salsa everywhere, especially in Trinidad. Which was the most authentic and amazing stop on our roadtrip for me personally, just being relaxed and partying away with locals and fellow backpackers. To quote one of our vacation encounters – a local Cuban doctor – when stated that Cuba is beautiful, was “well, that is all we have” – he might be right, but somehow they have everything.
Cuba proved to be fascinating, wild and rough – basic and a whole different world to what I am used to from Germany, but if I can describe it with one word: happy.
And guess how happy I was when my friends and I discovered that especially Cuban food turned out to be NOTHING like basically everbody told me before heading off: “Do not expect anything from Cuban food.” “All rice and beans.” “Try to live on fruit only, they only have sándwiches”.
I am sorry to disappoint you my friends, but you are wrong.
But the question remains – is Cuba a good hunting ground for a paleo?
Being 100% grain-free did not make me starve at all during my Cuban vacation and do not take if personally, but the only genuinly bad food I had was a in a 4 star ressort at Cayo Guillermo which is apparently were most of the people visting spend all their time: DO NOT DO IT. Go experience Cuba the real way with all it´s flavors and local specialities – perfectly fine for a paleo traveler.
I mean Cuba is an island – plenty of seafood, duh! But also on the less fishy protein front, we enjoyed succulent beef steaks and I luckily tried a typical central american dish called ropa vieja for the first time – perfectly paleo and can be compared to a well-seasoned, slow cooked beef-jerk.
So called “guarniciónes”of course feature rice and beans, called “moros y cristianos”, but if you opt to stay grain-free like me go for fried plantain chips – mariquitas – or the occasional thicker versión of tostones. Boiled yucca (or cassava) add variety and taste delicious in combination with the ever present salad of cabbage, cucumber and tomates.
The Cubans might love their pasteles and their famous pan con lechon (pork sandwiches), but I had amazing breakfasts and snacks with freshly-prepared omlettes con jamón y queso and frutas del tiempo (mainly pineapple, papaya and guava).
As you can see, I did not starve at all – check out my Cuban paleo restaurant finds, if you want to check out what’s good where and read on for my favourite local finds – all paleo approved of course.
Cuban Paleo Foodporn
La langosta/ Lobster
Served in many different ways, I basically lived off langostas enchiladas during the entire 10-day trip – this traditional dish includes pan-seared lobster tails in a mildly spiced tomato sauce with garlic, onions and cumin, sometimes a splash of white wine for tasting.
I mean, they could have fed me some lobster basically raw and I would have loved it, but I never experienced the king of seafood as freshly tasting and perfectly seared or grilled like in Cuba. Not in Maine. Not in Miami. So the guys must know their lobster.
Health benefits: composed with a mineral content, which is required for the body to function normally, lobster is not only low in fat but overall a healthy choice. Selenium, a trace element, aids the immune system and thyroid gland. High in copper, lobster can prevent bone and tissue diseases. The vitamin B12 is essential for healthy nerves and red blood cells.
La malanga/ Taro Root
What both me (as the only European of our road-tripping group) and also my Latin-American friends got to expience was a paleo-approved root vegetable called malanga in the Spanish-speaking parts of the West Indies – more commonly known as taro root and 100% paleo conform, even though they look similar and act like (non-paleo) white potatoes in the kitchen: they can be mashed, boiled or turned into soup.
On every stop of our road-trip, malanga has been served another way and our first skeptical looks turned into delight soon.
Health benefits: the root is rich in fiber and contains a high amount of minerals and vitamins, such as vitamin A and C plus magnesium and potassium. A low glycemic index balanced out your blood sugar and hunger hangs are a thing from the past.
La Guava/ Guava
Another fruit, I have never eaten or even heard of in my life was guava – a tropical fruit with white or maroon flesh and lots of small hard seeds enveloped in very soft, sweet pulp. It is eaten raw (ripe or semi-ripe) or in the form of jams and jellies. Or as a freshly pressed juice, which I couldn’t pass up on at breakfast.
Health benefits: surprising and brilliant – incorporating guava in your diet can actually help you with numerous health issues, like weight loss and diabetes due to a high fiber content, but a way lower sugar level than other fruits. Furthermore, good sources of vitamin-A are key, which is well known as a booster for vision health.
La Mantecado/ Locally grown Avocado
In Havana, we actually learned about a locally grown sort of avocado, which is mainly sold in little carts on the street for a couple of CUP: mantecados, as they are called by the locals as they’r buttery and creamy consistency reminds literally of butter – mantequilla in Spanish. Enjoyed mainly for breakfast with eggs, they brought my avocado game into a whole other level.
Health benefits: praised for its high nutritional value, avocados are superfoods and contain 20 different vitamins and minerals alone and only to name a view benefit your weight management, diabetes risk, heart health and cholersterol level.
The verdict: my circle of friends and family doesn’t know shit about Cuban food – my taste buds had the time of their life and I can only recommend avoiding resorts and hotel chains and get to know local cuisine at casas particulates, where a Cuban grandmother or the owner’s chef cousin prepared the most natural food choices for you. Nobody ever might have heard of paleo, and rice is their vice – but who cares when a supply restricted country offers you a table full of nature’s gems to dig in.
Seal of approval earned without effort. Gracias Cubá!
Restaurant recommendations in Cuba for (paleo) foodies:
- Restaurant La Mina (Calle Obispo #109, Habana Vieja): langosta enchilados and ropa vieja with yucca and plantain
- La Criolla (Calle San Ignacio No. 68 e/ O´Reilly y Emperado): “La Luna” – three types of seafood (lobster tail, gambas and fish filet) served with salad and plantain