¡Hola, amigos! Our second globetrot from Buffalo brought us to the Republic of Cuba, which occupies the largest island in the Caribbean Sea. Last year, the United States restored full diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time in several decades, and while we weren’t planning to visit in person, we were excited to learn as much as we could about our mysterious neighbor to the south. We still weren’t sure whether our new city would offer as many opportunities for us to explore international cultures, but once again (as with Croatia), we were in for a pleasant surprise.
Breakfast on Saturday morning was a traditional Cuban spread: tostada (grilled bread) with scrambled eggs and fresh fruit. Of course, no Cuban breakfast would be complete without mugs of café con leche (coffee with milk). We even dipped our tostada in the coffee like real Cubans do.
Later that morning, after we had finished our grocery shopping for the week, Jess got to work baking what was destined to be a highlight of the weekend: a Cuban tres leches (three milks) cake. Here’s the recipe. In case you are wondering, the three milks are evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and heavy cream. I had been planning to bake the cake myself for Jess’s upcoming birthday, but I’m sure you can guess who’s the more experienced baker!
After setting the cake out to cool, Jess also began to prepare a couple of vegetarian cubano sandwiches. Usually, a cubano includes the famous combination of roast pork and ham, but we enjoyed these with portobello mushrooms and roasted red pepper instead. Jess followed this recipe but substituted some extra virgin olive oil for the requested stick of butter.
The cubano sandwiches tasted great, and after lunch we kicked back to watch the “Cuba” episode of Geography Now on YouTube:
We also watched a longer tourism video from Expoza Travel that introduced us to many beautiful and historic sites across the island. As Jess prepared the tres leches sauce for the cake, I brewed us some more cafe con leche, which you can see in the photo at the top of the page. I also found a selection of Cuban folk music, which we listened to as Jess began chopping the vegetables for dinner.
Jess researched and cooked most of the Cuban recipes that we used this weekend, by choice, and we both benefited at the dinner table. To start with, she mixed together a chilled avocado salad. For the main course, she prepared both a dish of frijoles negros (black beans) and a vegan picadillo cubano (a traditional hash made here with meatless protein crumbles). For the picadillo, Jess used red potato instead of sweet, green bell pepper instead of red, and added raisins because the author of the recipe stated that those were more authentic. I helped by frying some plantains and boiling some rice. Five recipes later, here’s what we got:
Delicious! From left to right are the picadillo, the rice, and the black beans, all behind the fried plantains and the avocado salad.
That evening, we watched a charming 2005 film called Viva Cuba. Although I could not find a trailer with English subtitles, here is a taste of the original Spanish:
On Sunday morning, I cooked up another batch of tostada, scrambled eggs, and slices of fresh papaya for breakfast, which we again enjoyed with big cups of café con leche. This time, however, we mixed some leftover sweetened condensed milk with the coffee instead of regular milk from the bottle.
We made some more vegetarian Cuban sandwiches for lunch, this time on a baguette rather than on ciabatta bread. (There is actually a traditional type of bread used specifically for Cuban sandwiches, but we didn’t have quite enough time to try baking it ourselves.)
Following a sunny afternoon walk to Delaware Park, we watched few documentaries about what it is like to travel to Cuba as an American. One of these films was Rick Steves’ Guide to Cuba, below.
By Sunday evening, we had already learned a lot about Cuba’s rich cuisine, history, and culture, but we had one more stop to make. Located in Allentown, just a 20-minute walk from our home, Pasión is one of Buffalo’s top-rated Cuban restaurants.
After starting off with some warm bread and a turkey pâté, we ordered an appetizer of flaky pastelitos filled with cream cheese and puréed guava and mango (above). For the main course, below, Jess ordered the jardin de pasiónes, a medley of grilled vegetables and strawberries served over mashed boniato (a type of sweet potato), plus fried tostones (green plantains) and a cuban avocado salad on the side. I had the lechon asado (roast pork) along with some yuca and an assortment of other vegetables.
With so much food, we didn’t think we had any room left for dessert. But waiting for us at home was Jess’s majestic birthday cake—now thoroughly soaked in the tres leches sauce and topped with a stiff meringue.
The cake gave us a very sweet end to a weekend spent exploring one of our closest yet least understood neighbors. Given all that we learned in our brief look at the island’s history and culture, we can only hope that United States and Cuba will continue to repair their relationship in the future.