A guide to food in Cuba: what to expect on vacation

A guide to food in Cuba: what to expect on vacation

Last Updated on June 22, 2020 by Laura Cooper

If the only thing you know about Cuba’s food is that your friend recommended you bring your own spices, you don’t know enough about Cuban food. While other countries, like Jamaica and its famed jerk chicken, are known for a local food and rich spices and flavour, Cuba’s poor food myth is indeed just a myth.

So, why do travellers taking a vacation to Cuba think that they’re going to eat poorly?

One of our travel agents explained it this way: “it is not awful; it’s healthy. There’s no MSG, preservatives, extra salt, and so on. So compared to North American, it might taste bland, but it’s simply just real, whole, healthy foods.”

Why?

Cuba’s political and economical landscape are to blame, with the limited food supplies and preservatives they are able to access. The U.S. Embargo makes it virtually impossible to get some ingredients in the country, while the lack of flavour or use of spices is often just due to the Cuban’s disinterest in hot, spicy food. Cuba also has a conservative attitude when it comes to food, meaning there isn’t much interest in experimenting with flavours, ingredients, spices, and new recipes. Rather than focusing on what you won’t be able to eat while on your Cuba vacation, why not focus on the mounds of fresh fruit, fresh juices and famed Cuban coffee.

Food in Cuba traditional meal plate of rice and beans and pork

Traditional meal of pork, rice, beans, and plaintains

Rice and black beans are two of the most common Cuban dishes, and often served with every meal. There are nearly 20 different classic rice dishes in Cuba, while black bean “stew” is often served as a side. Pork and chicken are the most popular meat dishes, followed by seafood, but it’s worth noting beef is rarely found. 

One of our travel agents joked that you won’t gain weight on vacation in Cuba: the wholesome, natural food means you’re not as likely to overeat.

Best resorts for food in Cuba

Cuban food and the best food in Cuba is also heavily dependent on what part of the island you are visiting. In Varadero, many hotels do not see return guests year after year, and with more hotels than other tourist areas of the island, oftentimes food is not a priority in terms of budget or quality. Cayo Coco vacations and Cayo Santa Maria all-inclusive resorts are going to have higher quality food than other parts of the island, because of the lack of access to a city center or other dining options.

The best food in Cuba is also a matter of you get what you pay for: Iberostar resorts have better food than smaller chains. Paradisus has higher quality chilled tables and shaved ice trays, whereas a smaller resort like a Sol resort isn’t going to serve as high of quality, or as much variety.

We asked our travel agents for the top resorts in Cuba for food:

Cuban food: typical menus

An all-inclusive resort in Cuba is going to have more than just the traditional meal options of Cuban food. For breakfast, many resorts will offer a selection of fresh fruits, eggs, cold cereals, and cold plates of sliced meats. Lunch and dinner are often not differentiated and could be anything from pasta dishes to other international food, with sides of rice, beans, and hearty meat. The most common drink, of course, is rum, but Cuba also produces excellent coffee.

12 Comments

  1. It’s not food. It’s taking responsibility for keeping the food warm in their warming trays! 170F at all times. Train the staff by Ministry of health reps!

  2. Just returned from Barcelo Solymar Arena Blancas in Varadero and was surprised to find they have a returning guests menu.

  3. Most all inclusives in Cuba don’t serve Cuban food or will roast a pig as a one-off. The food in those places deserve the rep, but yes it is possible to find good food in Cuba. And many all inclusives in Varadero have returning guests. One hotel chef shared that he was not allowed to cook better meals during a conversation at his family home while he was serving great food. The rest of the article is more or less correct.

  4. I have been to Cuba 5 times (different locations) and absolutely love the island and its people. As for the food I find it very good although somewhat limited at times but you will not lose weight. Recently went to Cayo Santa Maria, chicken, pork, shrimp, burgers, lobster a couple of times, various salads, pasta, calamari. I find all the complaining about the food tiresome.

  5. We are travelling to Cuba soon. I’ve been advised to drink only bottled water and not to eat salads or greens that may have been washed in local water. Any advice would be appreciated.

  6. I like how there is like zero almost crime like no guns. For example Jamaica and the other places are pretty bad…but ya I’ve been to Cuba 3 times as a teenager and never got sick from their food, whereas I went to Puerta Plata and got sick during from something I drank at the cigar and whatever shop…and then ate dinner but I think what triggered it was what I had sampled at that shop whatever that drink was.

  7. Can people now comment on food shortages at the resorts? I really don’t know how bad it is but know they could not get flour or eggs last winter. The food sanctions are getting worse in Cuba, but how will this affect the resort’s food supply.

  8. I went to Cuba, and was rejected because my American passport, said I was born in Cuba. Unreal ! Never made it outside the airport.

    • Went to Cuba with an American passport………..
      Expected to be let in…………..
      Not the sharpest tool in the shed eh?

  9. I went to Cuba, and was rejected because my American passport, said I was born in Cuba. Unreal !

  10. I have been to Cuba more than nine times..I really only come here because it’s cheap.. I do love Cuba and I do enjoy my stay but if you want to talk about the food let’s just be completely honest…THERE IS NONE!!! Defender Resorts all over the country from Varadero all the way to Santa Maria and the food is absolutely horrible..

  11. Cuba’s POOR food IS NOT a myth. It is reality. My friends have been to Cuba 6 times and always at 4-star resorts. The food is bad. No fresh veggies most of the time. They served canned green beans. Not much in the way of salads either. The food is of bad quality in Cuba. Don’t be fooled. Be prepared. You go for the sand, water and sun…NOT the food. Helps to bring along a few spices. Don’t expect to be eating much lobster, shrimp, and salads. NO steaks. You will NOT find a steak anywhere in Cuba and no burgers either. If you do, it probably isn’t beef. Be prepared for mostly rice dishes that are bland and without flavor. The food choice is very limited. Many fruits were just over-ripe and inedible. Often there are no eggs available for breakfast either. You would think being by the sea would be a great place to enjoy many different fish and seafood dishes. No. Not at all. It is sad that nothing is being done about the food choices at these resorts. My friends claim that it has gotten worse in the last years. So enjoy the free beer and drinks while lounging on the beautiful white sands of Cuba.

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