As I’ve previously mentioned, Havana isn’t a place to come in expectation of great culinary expectation, which isn’t to say that you won’t find moments of magic. Of the three restaurants in the 5* Hotel Nacional, even the most expensive struggles to make something as straightforward as a Salad Nicoise. The irregularity of ingredient supply is surely something that this business could overcome, but if a lack of expectation has removed the demand…
There are a couple of exceptions to this mediocrity, one of which is to eat in a paladar. These are small privately owned restaurants which may not even stretch to having a written menu and are approved by the state for up to 12 covers. The best are in Miramar and Vedado according to my guide book, and so as I spent the majority of my time elsewhere I didn’t try them this time but this one was recommended to me.
I did however try the alternative.
Strolling down Obispo on any given afternoon and you’re likely to hear a clear contralto ringing down the street. “Mani” she sings out, repeating the word a few times before going on to complete a short refrain which presumably extols the virtues of her wares. Like the street sellers in “Oliver”, her song is part of her trade.
Mani, by the way, are warm and slightly salted peanuts, served in a paper cone, and they are just one of a number of street foods that can be found here, most of which rely upon those ingredients that are plentiful; sugar, flour, pork, and occasionally fish.
You want a taste of Havana? Take to the streets.