August 10, 2021

What is Cuban Cuisine by Miami Culinary Tours


Croquettes from Little Havana

What is Cuban Cuisine

To begin with Cuban food is actually a blend of Spanish, African and other Caribbean cultures. As Cuba was colonized by Spain, it was one of the first cultural influences upon the cuisine. During the colonial era, Havana served as a trading port and Spanish invaders passed through the port before moving on to other towns. The Spanish brought cattle and pigs that was then incorporated into the cuisine. Many of the colonizers were from southern Spain and hence Cuban foods are from Andalusia.

But also the cuisine of Africa plays a role in development of the cuisine. As African slaves were brought to the island, they also brought many ingredients you still see in modern Cuban cuisine. Starchy vegetables such as plantains and malaga became incorporated into the diet as well as guinea fowl and rice.

And believe it or not, the Chinese culture sprinkled a little of their own influence upon today’s Cuban cuisine. Large groups of indentured Chinese laborers were brought from China to do work formerly done by enslaved Africans when the enslavement of the African people was outlawed. China’s influence was significant as t hey we’re the first to bring in rice. Rice is one of the biggest staple foods not only in Cuban cuisine but in overall Latin American fare. Rice was actually considered a rarity for many years, as it was not native to Cuba or Spain. Also the Chinese had a great influence on the cooking style. Something called la Caja China or the Chinese Box was a contraption that Cubans observed Chinese laborers using to cook pork. These makeshift wooden boxes cooked lechon asado, slow roasted pork, until soft and tender, solidifying the use of the box at major Cuban festivals.

So these three major cultures influenced the Cuban cuisines so lovingly prepared by adoring abuelas to this very day.

The Heart of Cuban Cooking

Why have one heart when you can have two! Yes, there is a duo of flavors that declare Cuban food, well, Cuban food. One is sofrito and the other is mojo.

What is Sofrito

Ah, the secret sauce and the foundation of practically every fabulous Cuban recipe! The Cuban cuisine was built on sofrito, so what exactly is this most sought after flavor combination? Sofrito simply means sauce and unlike an Italian influenced sauce for example, Cuban sofrito is composed of Spanish onion, green pepper and garlic. These three are considered the holy trinity of sofrito! Other ingredients include herbs, spices and tomatoes but there are no hard and fast rules here; every Cuban abuela does something different from the comfort of her kitchen! To make a sofrito we gently cook the vegetables in oil either olive oil and some cooks use lard. After the vegetables sauté, then the rest of the ingredients for whatever you may be preparing are added. Sometimes, meat is browned before making the sofrito. Then the meat is removed and in the drippings, the vegetables are sautéed and the rest of the recipe is built from there.

What is Mojo?

Without mojo ( mo-ho) , well, you won’t have any mojo ( mo-joe)! Silly pun aside, mojo truly is what puts the spring in the step of many Cubans! This delightful marinade is why a truly good Cuban sandwich exists! Traditionally this marinade consists of olive oil, sour orange juice, oregano, salt and pepper and copious amounts of fresh chopped garlic. In South Florida we have access to sour orange, but if you don’t, mix orange juice with a bit of lime or lemon to replicate the taste. The pork in a properly prepared Cuban sandwich is marinated in mojo for 48 hours. As a Cuban sandwich connoisseur, I can definitely tell whether the pork has been marinated or not and I’ve given back too many commercially prepared ones than I care to know. But mojo isn’t just reserved for pork, it’s great to marinate poultry and seafood too.

Once you have your sofrito and mojo in hand, there is no limit to all the succulent Cuban dishes you can create. Soups, stews, beans, rice and meat and seafood dishes all use the sofrito and/ or mojo as the base for an explosion of flavor. Making your own is very simple, but remember the advice of dear Marisol- let love and passion guide your cooking, not necessarily proportions and measurements and that is the heart of a Cuban cocina!

But wait…. Want to try really good sofrito and mojo? Come join us on one of our Miami Culinary Tours tour of Little Havana and savor true Cuban empanadas filled with Picadillo, made with the aromatic sofrito. Or how about a big bite of a hot and crispy Cuban sandwich. You’ll be able to taste the mojo marinated pork in every juicy bite! Venture into Little Havana with us as we deeply explore the essence of Cuban cooking that has been done by Cuban abuelas for centuries!

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