How lifting the embargo might affect Cuban cuisine

Picadillo

For over 50 years, the United States has imposed a fairly strict embargo on its close neighbor, Cuba. U.S. citizens are not able to easily travel to the country, and there are barriers to importing Cuban goods, including foods, rum, and of course cigars. Recent events have renewed hope for lifting the embargo. Blogger turned author Ana Sofia Peláez, who recently released The Cuban Table: A Celebration of Food, Flavors and History, discussed what this could mean for the small island country.

Peláez notes that while the embargo has created difficulties for the Cuban food system, deep-rooted problems exist independent of the embargo and must also be addressed. One issue Peláez discovered when researching her cookbook "was that there was no wholesale market for paladares (small scale, family-owned restaurants) forcing them to cater almost exclusively to international tourism." Chefs wanted to serve traditional Cuban food but felt that their hands were tied. Peláez hopes that if the embargo is lifted and food distribution and cultivation issues are solved, Cuban chefs can return to cooking Cuban food.

When asked if the research she did for her cookbook taught her anything about Cuban food, Pelaez responded that she "learned that time and location are incidental in the Cuban kitchen. Both inside Cuba and in the diaspora, cooking is about holding on to the recipes that had been passed down and trying to maintain that connection to your family and your country's past." Recipes that she had grown up with such as picadillo or ropa vieja "were hard to come by on the island and others had fallen out of memory."

Read more about Pelaez and her cookbook. You can also visit her blog, Hungry Sofia.

Photo of Picadillo from The New York Times Cooking by Sam Sifton

2 Comments

  • Cubangirl  on  1/8/2015 at 9:31 PM

    I've not read here cookbook, but I do follow her blog. The recipes I've seen are right on target for authentic Cuban food. For example, her Flan de Leche does not use condensed milk. Both my children have been to Cuba in the last few years and had the same comments as Ana Sofia. I am looking forward to seeing the cookbook.

  • SandJ  on  1/9/2015 at 11:33 AM

    Ana spoke very well about how the "Embargo" isn't the issue. We need to worry about the democratization of Cuba and their move towards respecting human rights. The lack of resources and instability in Cuba is evident in pictures and through stories. Positive influences will definitely change the quality of food that Cuban Islanders can produce for themselves. Due to tourist apartheid, foreigners can eat whatever they choose, whereas the locals are stuck with minimally rationed stipends. Like Ana mentioned even the paladares suffer via this cruel dictatorship. There have been a lot of times in the past decades where milk, meat and other essential items are not available. We have heard heartfelt stories from those who cooked rags in a stew to simulate meat. So many more stories to share, but they may fall short of everyone else's opinions, or what they think they know. De los buenos quedan pocos.

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