11 Aug Fiery Cuisines Part 17 – Cuba
Andrew’s Essential Fiery Food Facts that a Pyro-Gourmaniac needs to Know
Fiery Cuisines Part 17…… Cuba
A country that was virtually cut off from the Western Word, due to the USA embargoes, Mythical home of the Habanero Chilli, Che , Castro, A country who’s cuisine makes me envious ….
The Republic of Cuba consists of one large island and several small ones situated on the northern rim of the Caribbean Sea, about 160 kilometres south of Florida. With an area of 110,860 square kilometres Cuba is the largest country in the Caribbean. The area occupied by Cuba is slightly smaller than the state of Pennsylvania.
Cuba’s coastline is marked by bays, reefs, keys, and islets. Along the southern coast are long stretches of lowlands and swamps. Slightly more than half the island consists of flat or rolling terrain, and the remainder is hilly or mountainous. Eastern Cuba is dominated by the Sierra Maestra mountains, whose highest peak is Pico Real del Turquino. Central Cuba contains the Trinidad (Escambray) Mountains, and the Sierra de los Órganos is located in the west. The largest river is the Cauto.
Except in the mountains, the climate of Cuba is semitropical or temperate.
Christopher Columbus discovered the island of Cuba on October 28, 1492, claiming it in honour of Spain. As colonies were established, the Spanish began mistreating and exploiting the native inhabitants of the island until they were nearly extinct. When Spaniards first arrived in Cuba in 1492 they encountered indigenous people who lived by hunting, fishing, gathering and the cultivation of cassava, yams, maize and black beans. As a result of the new illnesses and living conditions brought in by the colonisers, the original Cuban Indians eventually became all but extinct and crops that had been previously grown gave way to new ones brought from Spain. The only dish that has been handed down from that time is casabe, a round thin cake made from Cassava which is grated, dried, pounded and cooked. The Spanish contribution to local cuisine included not only ingredients but also techniques and dishes that acquired their own idiosyncratic character once they took root in Cuba.
The second major influence was African, arriving with the slaves that were brought to the island to undertake the hardest physical labour. From Africa came foods such as Okra, Taro root and Plantains. Another significant event was the arrival of Chinese immigrants during the mid-19th century. Their contribution includes Soy sauce and Chinese-style rice.
Spanish invader brought with them citrus fruits, such as Oranges and lemons, as well as Rice and vegetables. They also grew Sugar cane, which became a major Cuban crop. African slaves were unable to bring any items along with them on their journey to Cuba. They were, however, able to introduce their African culture. The slaves developed a taste for fruits and vegetables such as Maize , Okra, and Cassava. In time, Spanish and African cultures joined together to create several popular dishes, including arroz congri (rice and beans, widely known as Moors and Christians) and tostones (pieces of lightly fried fruit, similar to the banana). Cuban cuisine is a blend of Native American Taino food, Spanish, African, and Caribbean cuisines. Some Cuban recipes share spices and techniques with Spanish and African cooking, with some Caribbean influence in spice and flavour. This results in a unique, interesting and flavourful blend of the several different cultural influences, with strong similarities with the cuisine of the neighbouring Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. A small but noteworthy Chinese influence can also be accounted for, mainly in the Havana area. During colonial times, Cuba was an important port for trade, and many Spaniards who lived there brought their culinary traditions along with them.
Cuban cuisine, however, drastically changed after the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Fidel Castro overthrew the government. Cubans who opposed him began to flee the island, including chefs and restaurant owners. As a result, food shortages became frequent, and food that was still available was of poor quality. As of 2001, Castro was still in power and because of political disagreements with other countries, trade restrictions imposed on Cuba remain, so living conditions and shortages of food have improved little.
Thick and thin Bean soups are an important part of the Cuban diet; many of these have their basis in traditional Spanish cooking. White, black and kidney Beans, dried Peas and Chickpeas are the most commonly used legumes. Stews and casseroles also play a dominant role in Cuban cookery. The sofrito, a mixture of lightly fried Onion, Garlic, Habanero, green Chilli and sometimes Tomatoes, is the basis for seasoning Cuban dishes to which spices including Cumin, Oregano and serrated Coriander are often added.
Pork and Chicken are favourite meats in Cuba. A leg of Pork, marinated in the juice of bitter Oranges, Salt, crushed Garlic and Oregano before being roasted, always forms the centrepiece on special occasions. It is served with conger -Rice and black Beans cooked together, fried Plantains and Cassava spread with a dressing made of Garlic, Lemon or bitter Orange juice and Oil. This is accompanied by a leafy or vegetable salad. After everyone has gorged themselves on these succulent delights they somehow find room for traditional Cuban puddings so sweet as to defy credibility, which include custards and baked desserts and fruits such as Guava, Pineapple, Mango, Grapefruit, Oranges, Pawpaw and grated Coconut poached in sugar syrup.
It is still unclear as to how rice became central to Cuban cuisine, but for a Cuban a meal without Rice is simply not complete. It is usually eaten boiled with salt and mixed, at the table, with soup or stew. It may also, however, be prepared with Fish, Pork, Chicken, vegetables or Ham, or a combination of these, seasoned with spices and herbs and cooked in meat or Chicken stock. The latter concoction is usually referred to as yellow rice because it acquires a yellow-orange colour from the Annatto added to it.
Fried food is a constant feature of Cuban meals. The word vianda in Spanish means food, as in the slightly archaic English usage viands, but in Cuba it has become the collective term for root vegetables such as Potatoes, Cassava, Squash, Sweet Potatoes and a wide variety of Yams, all of which are normally eaten fried or boiled. In some cases, an oil-based dressing is added to them and they are served as a side dish. Crisp green or mixed salads are always seen on Cuban tables. Favourite salad vegetables are Lettuce, Cabbage, Green Beans, Cucumber, Watercress, Tomato, Avocados and Beetroot.