By Liz Williams
SoFAB sponsored a spectacular culinary trip to Cuba and I am only just back. Besides having fallen in love with the island, I also came under the spell of my fellow visitors to Cuba. There was no one on the trip that I wanted to leave on the side of the road. And that doesn’t happen every time you travel. So first let me say “Hats off!” to the rest of the tour goers – you know who you are!
We visited paladares, a farm, markets, and many places associated with rum, chocolate, and other culinary activities. What struck me most is the resourcefulness of the people, who use and re-use whatever they have to make do. And fortunately there is a bounty to the sea, which also helps feed the island. What is missing is the sense of plenty that makes you feel welcome and warm. There is a distinct lack of that feeling.
In the state run culinary school, the students and faculty made us feel as though we belonged there, but it was painfully obvious that the supplies that would be essential in a culinary school were in short supply. Even basics like salt and pepper were not lavishly available. It is a worry that a country which really cares about its culture – carefully nurturing its visual artists, its dancers, and its musicians – is not embracing its culinary arts with the same support and enthusiasm as the other aspects of its culture. Yes, its rum is respected. But a look at pre-revolutionary cookbooks reveals that official cooking today is not up to the old standards. It is no doubt because the ingredients are not available, but it also means that the palates of young chefs are not being nurtured on the island. Those students who can travel and taste the food of other places may return to Cuba to cook with imported spices and make for happy eaters.
I feel fortunate to have visited Cuba before the transformation that we can anticipate caused by the onslaught of tourism, but that very tourism may help make the food of Cuba vibrant again.
Many thanks to Britt Nelson McPhail for the photos in this post!