Robaina's plantation

Monday 30 January 2012

EL Aljibe (best chicken in Havana, Cuba)

            I haven't been to EL Aljibe in a couple of years during which I had heard the quality of the food had diminished due to the fact that the chef had left. A few months ago someone had told me he was back and the chicken is the same as before. Since I was staying in Miramar I decided to pay them a visit and either confirm or dispel the rumours.
          The restaurant is very rustic and except for a private room it's open air or what Cubans call a Ranchon. The area is outside but covered with a thatch roof and has a solid floor. It's not particularly pretty but it's comfortable and there's no issue with my cigar smoking. They have a few things other than chicken  but most people, myself included, go for the chicken. The chicken is all you can eat by the way. It's not cheap by Cuban standards 12cuc per order but you will definitely walk away full. Also included in that price is all the side dishes; rice, black beans, salad, plantines and french fries. You can't possibly eat everything including the chicken. Two chicken dinners, one dessert, 3 beer and one coffee, 35.20cuc with the so called 10% tax. I don't consider that too expensive but you can pay a lot less for chicken in Cuba.
         They have an extensive collection of wines but don't have a wine list, or at least they didn't have one on my visit before this one. You go into the wine room or cave and pick out the wines to get the prices. Something else the restaurant has is a quaint little cigar shop with a pretty good selection of cigars. Just in case you forget yours back at the hotel or want to smoke something different than what you have. It even has a little lounge area with a couple of comfortable chairs but the place gets really smokey due to it's size. Prices for cigars are the same across the island so buying them here is not more expensive.
          After all is said and done, I loved it. I would definitely return again and recommend it to anyone who is the area. Would I go if I'm staying in Old Havana?? That's the reason why I haven't been in a while. Include a 10cuc cab ride there and back from Old Havana plus all your tips and that meal for 2 now costs 50cuc. There are a lot of places that offer great food for less than that all within walking distance in Old Havana.

EL Aljibe
Calle 7  e/24 y 26
Miramar, La Habana
tel 07 204-1583 & 07 204-1584

Thursday 26 January 2012

Hotel Nacional Lobby & Patio

                On my last post I said that I thought The Melia Cohiba had one of the nicest lobbies in Havana. I have to add the lobby-patio at the Hotel Nacional as another one. If just for the history of the hotel and the comfort of their patio out back. Almost everyone I know that has been to Havana has been to the Hotel Nacional patio and loves it. Huge comfotable chairs, the ocean just down the path and the sounds of traditional Cuban music being played by a seasoned trio. What's there not to like, it's one of the nicest places to smoke a cigar and relax in Cuba. The drawback is that the drinks are a bit expensive by Cuban standards, a beer is 3cuc and a cocktail 4-5cuc. However, everything is relative and those same drinks would be more than double that price where I live and the atmosphere wouldn't come close.
                 The lobby isn't the most beautiful in Cuba but many famous people have walked through it's halls; Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole (who performed there), Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Ava Gardner & Meyer Lanksy (who owned the Casino), to name a few. How can you not feel something walking through this lobby. It still has the feel of 'days gone by'. I've never stayed at this hotel but would like to one day. If I get that opportunity I'll do a better write-up. Enjoy these pictures for now.

Link to a video clip.

Monday 23 January 2012

Cuban New Year's Dinner

                 Anyone who tells you the food sucks in Cuba & that they dont have a cuisine have only stayed in all-inclusive resorts and never ventured off the beaten path. Those of us who travel to Havana or other cities with no all-inclusives and sometimes no hotels understand otherwise. You may still find bad Cuban food in a Cuban's home but they do have a cuisine. It's only limited to the materials they have at hand or their abitity to cook them. I have the good fortune of having friends who cook it well.
                  New Year's Eve is a big holiday in Cuba and the streets are buzzing with activity. At a certain hour, later in the day, you might even catch a whiff of roast pig in the air. Many Cubans will kill a pig or at least get one already killed and ready for the spit. They may not eat too well the rest of the year but they do it good on this night. The house where I was invited was no different. This particular family doesn't eat too poorly the rest of the year but the holiday dinner is always a lttle special. Plus, with my coming, they prepared all my favourite dishes. I only eat this in Cuba. I was looking forward to it.
                 "Chicharo's". They had them cooking in the pressure cooker, they are like the split-pea of Cuba. You can soak them overnight but this way is quicker. They take about an hour in the pressure cooker. You cook them with small bits of meat but in this case they used some fat. Saute green peppers, garlic, onions & cilantro & add to the beans when they're almost done. Remove the beans & add to blender. Strain over pot adding cumin, bay leaf & squash. They eat this as a soup or pour it over their white rice.
                  "Platano Maduro". I love these things, they're like natures candy. It's kinda like our banana, sweet & mushy. They just deep fry it until it becomes golden brown. So sweet.
                   "Chicharrita". They are like plantine chips. Just slice and fry. They start frying these things up hours before dinner is ready. It's the snack food that goes perfect with the Bucanero beer.
                   "Malanga". This root plant can be used in a number ways. Starchy, served mashed up like potatoes sometimes but tonight they made "Frittura di Malanga". After peeling the root, it's grated adding garlic & onion, chop together. When everything is mixed, add one whole egg & mix together making like a mash, form the shapes with a couple of spoons and fry. Everyone loves these.
                      "Yukka". Just boil it. I believe the key is to pick the right one. The sauce that's poured on top is; garlic puree, sour orange (or lemon) & vegetable oil. Just pour the heated sauce over the halved yukka.
                      "Roast Pork". This was more like something we would see. They used the rack with the steak. It was a beautiful piece of meat with a nice slab of fat on one side. They cooked it with; tomatoes, carrot, onion, butter and white wine, turning it occasionally. Once cooked, it's sliced & placed on a cooking tray. When the tray is full, the sauce with the chopped vegetables is poured over the meat & placed in the oven once again for a few minutes.

Dinner's Served

                     The Raw Dried Chicharo

The Sauce that will be added to the Chicharo in the Pressure Cooker

The Chicharo removed from the Cooker, strained & remaining ingrdients added

Platano Maduro


Malanga Root Cleaned

Malanga Peeled

Malanga Grated

Malanga with remaining ingredients preparing for frying

Yukka just boil

Yukka topped with sauce

Pork rack raw with garlic marinade

Pork rack first viewing

Adding Tomatoes

Turn the meat and vegatables over

Slice the meat and place on a baking pan

Top with vegetable mixture and bake for a few minutes more