My Love Affair With Cuban Food - New Horizons in the Kitchen Blog at - 308239

New Horizons in the Kitchen

My Love Affair With Cuban Food 
Aug. 8, 2013 12:27 pm 
Updated: Aug. 12, 2013 8:39 am

I’d like to share with you my love of Cuban food and some traditions from living in Florida.  I enjoy eating and preparing foods from a variety of global cuisines, but Cuban cuisine is one that I truly love.  The combinations of spices used in Cuban cooking have a great similarity to those found in Spanish dishes, but over the years, the Cuban people created many of their own unique flavors.  Goya has an incredible line of food products for Cuban cooks and other latin cuisines, and I just finished cooking several tasty new recipes using them, so I'm feeling inspired.

There are as many variations from cook to cook in the preparation of various Cuban dishes as there are ways to prepare American fried chicken.  A good example of this is Goya’s Sazon.  This is an ingredient used often in Cuban cooking, and my supermarket carries four varieties.  Another ingredient is Sofrito, again, many different versions.

I’m fortunate because there is an abundance of Mom and Pop Cuban restaurants in Tampa on a street fondly referred to as “Boliche Boulevard.”  Many years ago when Tampa was the cigar center of the world, thousands of Cuban and Spanish cigar workers knew they had these neighborhood cafes where they could be served heaping dishes of their foods at affordable prices.  And that hasn’t changed today.  This is the same food that is being made everyday in Cuban home cooks' kitchens throughout the Tampa Bay area. 

In the morning, you’ll see tables of “breakfast regulars” at these Cuban restaurants dunking their Cuban toast (pressed with butter) into their Cafe con Leche or Cuban Espresso.  Cuban bread is widely available, but the real deal is worth a trip to La Segunda Bakery in the latin district of Tampa known as Ybor City.   La Segunda is the largest producer of Cuban bread  in the area and was founded by Juan More who migrated to Tampa from Cuba and opened La Primera Bakery in 1915.  La Primera Bakery (literally “The First” in Spanish) burned down decades ago, and when rebuilt, it was rechristened “La Segunda,” translating to “The Second.”

Authentic Cuban bread is baked with a moist palm frond down the center of the loaf creating a shallow trench in the upper crust, it’s approximately three feet long (they do sell a smaller version, but it's still big), and somewhat rectangular or flat crossways (as compared to the rounder shape of Italian or French bread loaves).  It has a hard, thin, almost papery toasted crust and a soft flaky middle, and should be eaten soon after baking, as it goes stale quickly.  It never gets stale in this house because it IS eaten quickly.

Many years ago it was delivered every morning just like milk.  Houses had a sturdy nail driven into the doorframe next to the front door.  The bread deliveryman would impale the fresh loaf of bread on the nail (can’t say that I’m disappointed that they're not doing that these days).  Cuban bread is a mainstay of Cuban cooking and is served with just about every meal.

As much as I enjoy sitting down to a meal at these restaurants, I also like to sit down to a meal prepared in my kitchen.  Allrecipes has a good selection of Cuban recipes, and Goya can provide all of the necessary ingredients to prepare them.  Here’s a sampling of some of the recipes that I’ve tried (more are stashed away in my Recipe Box for the future).

One of the classic Cuban main courses is Ropa Vieja which is a shredded beef stew in tomato sauce with a variety of spices, olives and capers.  Not sure how its name evolved because ropa vieja translates to “Old Clothes” which certainly is not descriptive of how it tastes.

Along with this, you probably would have Black Beans and Rice.  Some Cubans prefer traditional white rice and others like yellow rice.  It’s often served with chopped onions on the top.

Another traditional main course is chicken and rice which can be prepared many, many different ways.  One that we recently enjoyed is Goya's Cheesy Chicken and Yellow Rice.

The official sandwich of the Tampa Bay area is the Cuban Sandwich, and Allrecipes Classic Cuban Midnight Sandwich is pretty close to tradition.  And the traditional way to serve it is “pressed.”

Papas Rellenas (Fried Stuffed Potatoes) is something often eaten right along side of a  Cuban sandwich.  They’re potato balls stuffed with a spicy ground beef filling. breaded, and then deep fried. I keep them in a zip lock bag in the freezer and then just pull out a few at a time for dinner.  And you’ll likely find a bottle of Goya hot sauce right on the restaurant’s table...use it!  Goya’s hot sauce is one that I genuinely like for Cuban food.

I first tried Goya’s Yellow Rice last week, and seriously, it’s delicious.  I’d been using another yellow rice packaged brand, but I’ll be using Goya moving forward.  Very  impressed with it, and it tastes like the yellow rice served in our restaurants.   If you prefer homemade, try Cuban-Style Yellow Rice.

Right up there with Ropa Vieja for Cuban comfort food is Picadillo.  This is my recipe, so I may be a little prejudiced, but I think it’s really good.

Sofrito is an ingredient you often find in latin cuisine, and if you can’t find Goya sofrito in your area, give this recipe a try.

Here are a couple more Cuban-inspired recipes that I’ve enjoyed from the  Allrecipes site.

A traditional Cuban dessert to finish off a dinner would be flan.  Again, many different ways to make it, but we enjoyed this recipe for Pina Colada Flan.

And, of course, to wash it all down, Sangria can’t be forgotten, so go ahead and mix up a pitcher.

Goya was the sponsor of one of this month’s Allstars activities, and this has given me a good introduction to the extent of their product line.  One product that will be a mainstay in my kitchen moving forward is the Goya Adobo With Pepper All Purpose it!  I’ve used some Goya products in the past but I'll confess:  I'm now a Goya Fan!!  It is now my go-to brand for latin cuisine recipes...I like it!

So this is the end of this photographic journey on Cuban cooking.  This barely touches the surface of all the wonderful food and fascinating culture of Cuban cuisine.  If you’re an adventuresome cook and have not yet had Cuban food, step outside the box, and try a few recipes that appeal to you.   I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

I am an Allrecipes Allstar Brand Ambassador (a voluntary position),

and I'm not compensated for my work with  Products

were provided by Goya and were only used for my participation

in this project.  The reviews, content and opinions expressed 

in this blog are purely the sole opinions of 

lutzflcat in her New Horizons in the Kitchen blog.

Aug. 8, 2013 12:40 pm
Just went out for Cubin laat night! Had me some "old clothes" Great blog!
Aug. 8, 2013 12:45 pm
Heather, don't you just love it?
Aug. 8, 2013 12:56 pm
What a great blog and recipics. Now I'm hungry for Cuban food. ROPA VIEJA is on my to do list.
Aug. 8, 2013 1:03 pm
Thanks Brian. I was a little concerned that it was too long, but then, there are a lot of photos. Try Ropa Vieja and try the Picadillo, too. They have similar ingredients, just one's with flank steak and the other's with ground beef.
Aug. 8, 2013 1:34 pm
Wonderful blog, photos are lovely. I love beans and rice we had that for supper a few days ago. Yellow rice is oh do good. Thanks for this lutzflcat, learn something new every day.
Aug. 8, 2013 1:42 pm
Not too long at all, lutzflcat, and great pix! Thanks for being my tour guide through Tampa. I was there a few years ago and totally unaware of the Cuban influence. I may have to try that sandwich!
Aug. 8, 2013 3:52 pm
I love Cuban food and it is one of the things I miss about Florida. Your blog is inspiring to take a shot at this great cuisine. I also loved the Greek food in the little town north of Tampa....but I can't remember the name of the town???? Thanks for giving me the courage to tackle this yummy cuisine! OH and that bread on the nail thing.....EWWWWW
Aug. 8, 2013 4:49 pm
I have the Ropa Vieja on my to do list also. Your photos are making me hungry. Thank you for that little view of Tampa.
Aug. 9, 2013 3:18 am
Manella, yellow beans and rice is oh so good, particularly topped with yellow onions. Thanks for stopping by.
Aug. 9, 2013 3:22 am
Bibi, there are certain areas of the city where the Cuban culture thrives. And by all means, give the sandwich a try. But I must warn you, the Cuban bread is what takes it over the top.
Aug. 9, 2013 3:28 am
Mauigirl, glad to hear you share my love of Cuban food. I have mojo roasted pork and yucca on my radar to try to make soon. And I know that Goya makes a Criolla Mojo. That little town you're talking about is Tarpon Springs (about 30 minutes from home), and it's where to go if you want authentic Greek food. Don't know if you had a Greek salad when you were there, but the way it's served in this area is a big mound of potato salad in the center of the plate with the Greek salad on the top. Thanks for reading.
Aug. 9, 2013 3:31 am
Thanks BigShotsMom. Some of the ropa vieja reviewers made it in a slow cooker. I made it on the stovetop, and just let it cook a long time. Consider cutting the water back to 2 cups to start. You always can add more water. Thanks for stopping by.
Deb C 
Aug. 9, 2013 4:27 am
I have to admit I know nothing of Cuban cuisine so your information was a fabulous introduction and your pictures are wonderful, and make me want to try everything. Everything looks delicious! BTW – my daughter just moved to Tampa so I’m sending her the link to your blog. Thanks for sharing!
Aug. 9, 2013 5:01 am
I could live on Cuban Midnight Sandwiches, but have never ventured too far beyond that. I’ve had the Ropa Vieja in my recipe box for years, but keep passing it up. Your picture of the Ropa Vieja and Black Beans and Rice are absolutely mouthwatering! (Well, all of your pictures are.) Of course, who doesn’t love a good flan? It’s one of my favorite desserts. You’ve definitely inspired me to take that next step and venture into the world of Cuban cuisine. Great blog!
Aug. 9, 2013 5:15 am
Cuban sandwich & some Cuban coffee and I am a very happy man. Your pictures look fantastic.
Aug. 9, 2013 5:27 am
Hi Deb, it's good stuff, believe me. But in moderation, because it's pretty easy to pack on the pounds with Cuban food. What area of the city is your daughter living?
Aug. 9, 2013 5:30 am
Diz, glad to hear you're a Cuban sandwich fan...gotta have that roast pork on it. Big controversy (in a fun way) over whether the sandwich originated in Tampa or Miami. Doesn't matter to me, I'd eat it in either city.
Aug. 9, 2013 5:37 am
I'm with you Doug, but real Cuban coffee makes Starbucks look weak. The roast pork is so important to this sandwich, and it's available freshly sliced at just about any deli in the area. And the bread, seriously, everybody should be able to have this sandwich on freshly-baked La Segunda Bakery Cuban bread at least once (my mouth is watering now). Thanks for stopping by.
Aug. 9, 2013 6:19 am
Well done blog! The photos are fabulous. I want to sample each dish. They all look oh so good. This motivates me to add some Cuban flair to my menu repertoire! I appreciate the work you went to in presenting these dishes. Very informative and interesting. Thanks so much, lutzflcat!
Aug. 9, 2013 6:47 am
Is Cuban coffee similar to Puerto Rican coffee? If so......LOVE it!
Aug. 9, 2013 7:14 am
Mauigirl, I worked Puerto Rico for two years, and I had to drink their coffee half milk and half coffee. I wouldn't say it's quite that robust, but it is "bold" (if that helps any).
Aug. 9, 2013 7:16 am
Cookin'Cyn, thanks for the kind remarks. I'm not a blogger, so I never really know what's appropriate or what people really want to read. I just thought a little info about the area might make it more interesting than just posting photos. Thank you for taking the time to read.
Aug. 9, 2013 7:50 am
I really should have waited until after breakfast to read this blog! I am starving and everything looks wonderful. Many years ago a cuban friend of mine, Roger, brought a wonderful roast pork dish to a pot luck. I never got the recipe from him and unfortunately he left left this world way too young. I still remember that tender, succulent pork. I am going to check out the Goya products and see if I can't come close to re-creating that dish. Thanks for the inspiration.
Aug. 9, 2013 8:29 am
Mauigirl, for years, we had an annual Chicken Feast Party (too long to explain). We provided all of the chicken dishes, and our Cuban friend, Vinnie, always would bring cuban pork and yucca (garlic, garlic, garlic!) made by his mother. I've never tasted anything, anywhere to compare to it. Writing this blog yesterday made me think about it. I doubt I'll ever be able to duplicate that pork because it was divine, but I do want to try making it...soon, I hope. I have a little Cuban Home Cooking cookbook, and there's a recipe in there for Roast Pork (called Lechon Asado), so I think I'll try that one. I'll let you know if it turns out well. and share the recipe.
Aug. 9, 2013 8:51 am
Yum. Everything looks SOOO good! I haven't had a lot of exposure to Cuban food, but I have loved all I've tried, and I make the Cuban sandwich regularly. I sure wish I could make it with real Cuban bread...I bet that really would take it over the top. I haven't tried the coffe, but I'm kind of a wimp when it comes to coffee, so I'd have to take mine with a lot of cream, I'm sure! My family absolutely adores flan, so I make the pretty regularly, too. And boy, am I hungry after reading your blog! Loved it!
Aug. 9, 2013 10:10 am
wisweetp, really good Cuban bread (and not all of what's sold here is good) combined with good Cuban pork does take this sandwich over the top. And if I had to choose a single dessert as my favorite, it would be flan (or maybe creme brûlée). Actually, now i'm thinking about pulling out a container of the ropa vieja from the freezer for dinner tonight. Thanks for taking the time to read.
Aug. 9, 2013 10:47 am
Your blog was inspiring to look at. Loved looking at the different recipes you served. Thanks for sharing!
Aug. 9, 2013 11:29 am
Thanks for stopping by Cat Hill.
Aug. 10, 2013 6:01 am
All the dishes look wonderful! Your photos are just stellar. I need to try Cuban food. The potatoes look so yummy! Here in Southwestern Colorado, I haven't seen any Cuban restaurants.
Aug. 10, 2013 7:16 am
Thanks, Lela. If no Cuban restaurants in Southwestern Colorado, maybe all the more reason to give a few recipes a try? Thanks for taking the time to read.
Aug. 10, 2013 4:04 pm
We don't have a big Cuban influence where I live in central Ontario, but I was happy to read your blog and learn something. I even saved a few recipes! Thanks lutzflcat! Nice blog.
Aug. 11, 2013 8:43 am
Spent two weeks vacation last month in the Canadian Rockies and didn't see any restaurants offering Cuban food. Did see some Mexican restaurants and had probably the worst Mexican food in my life at a restaurant in Canmore, AB. It's always an adventure with new ethnic cuisines, but I hope you do try a couple recipes. Thanks for stopping by.
Aug. 11, 2013 11:32 am
Ahhhh....let me just clean the drool off my keyboard. I too love Cuban food, and have made half of those dishes...except flan, but then my neighbor makes that for me ;-P. Everything looks so delicious and as always presented so very well with your beautiful photography talent. Thank goodness Goya products are abundantly available here in Central FL at all major grocery stores.
Aug. 11, 2013 1:51 pm
Sherri, I'm glad to hear there's another Cuban food fan on this site. And lucky you to have a neighbor feeding you flan! That's just about my fav dessert, but I don't make it often. Special treat with total Cubano dinner, though. Thanks for stopping by.
Aug. 11, 2013 10:12 pm
Great Blog The Cuban midnight sandwich is one of our favorites. Your piece on compatible authentic Cuban food has inspired me to try more thank-you.
Aug. 12, 2013 8:39 am
Thanks for taking the time to read cz375hh. I really do love this food, and I'm so glad to hear that you may give a few Cuban recipes a try. Love the photo of your "baby." Just lost my orange and white boy (Toby) to a blood clot about 4 months ago, and your photo brings back good memories of him.
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About Me
Retired from a high-stress sales career which involved lots of travel. I now have the time to relax, turn off the alarm clock and sleep in, read a book, magazine or the newspaper (every day, not just Sunday) and, most importantly, take in everything that the Florida lifestyle offers, and that's a lot! And, finally, I have the luxury to really pursue a lifetime passion, cooking.
My favorite things to cook
Enjoy all kinds of food and cuisines, and I literally can't think of one food that I would refuse to eat. And that even includes liver (don't like cooking it, but sure like eating it). I love good food, but you won't find me making a recipe that has 40 ingredients. I just don't have the attention span for that.
My favorite family cooking traditions
My husband's grandmother was from Bavaria, and his mother learned to cook many of her old-country recipes which she then passed on to me. Our traditional Christmas dinner is sauerbraten (which marinates for at least five days) with gravy, homemade egg noodles sauteed in butter, potato balls (which float to the top of the boiling water if prepared correctly), sweet and sour red cabbage, and freshly cooked apples (gotta have something healthy). It's an exhausting meal that literally takes all day to prepare, but it's worth the effort. Yeah, I know it's also a carbohydrate nightmare, but what the heck, we only have it once a year.
My cooking triumphs
Mastering the Christmas sauerbraten meal was a victory. Also, making homemade goetta, a breakfast meat from Cincinnati. My version is made with all pork, equal portions of boston butt and loin. Today's goetta in Cincy has beef in it, as does the recipe on this site, but I'm sticking with ALL pork. It is totally unhealthy for you, but it's a treat, and I don't make it often.
My cooking tragedies
There have been a number over the years like the potato balls mentioned above just disintegrating into a puddle of potato shreds. There's no recipe, it's just a matter of "feeling right" when you're mixing. Not long ago, I made a peach pie and got so caught up in trying to make the pie crust work that I forgot to add the dry ingredients (sugar, flour, cinnamon, etc.) to the peaches that were sitting in a bowl on the counter. Cooked it anyway, it was ghastly, and then threw it away. My ongoing tragedy is making pie crust. There must a black cloud hanging over my head when I'm making pie crust because I ALWAYS have problems. But I'm not giving up, one day this tragedy will turn into a triumph and be listed above!
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