This week Emily Miller, the creator of Trends on Trends, took over our social feed to show travelers how to experience Havana like a local with Cuba Travel Network. We caught up with Emily after her trip to learn more about her experience.
Q: You recently travelled to Cuba on a tour with us. If you could describe your experience with three words, what would they be and why?
Verdant – The people, the colors, the vibes, all are full of life.
Malecón – The main freeway along the coastline is a constant reference point not only for directions, but for a local place to hang, sit on the wall overlooking the water while drinking bodega beers.
Wanderlust – Cuba is a place where food, experiences, and friends are waiting to be discovered. With an open mind and empty stomach, the real Havana will reveal itself.
Q: Was your experience dining at a Cuban paladar what you expected?
Down an alley, through a front yard, in between buildings, up a metal staircase, every preposition can be used to describe directions to Supermario — a lunch spot, but really, a woman’s home kitchen with a few tables and chairs assembled on her second floor patio. Well, it’s not literally called Supermario. The nickname was aptly adopted by the Cuba Travel Network team because getting some delicious lunch is the prize for navigating your way through a 90’s video game style maze of buildings. If you can find it, or my new friend Karel (a Cuba Travel Network employee) I highly recommend everything, don’t forget the beans!
Q: What was your favorite culinary experience in Cuba and why?
Describing how to get to some of the most delicious food in Cuba is a difficult feat. The best places are hidden and will likely never be found again, but for me, that’s the fun of it. My favorite fried chicken lady for example: if the door is open, there will be a bucket of chicken and an adorable little dog guarding it. She will likely be leaning in the doorway, eclipsing her face, white turban, and pink blouse to the sun. If the door is closed, it’s unmarked, with no way of knowing if you’re at the chicken lady or just a crazy person wandering the streets peeking in doorways for a sign of a dog or a bucket of chicken. The roulette of stumbling upon things you were looking were for or (even better) delicious bites you had no idea existed, is what makes Cuba so exciting.
Q: What did you notice about the local people eating? Is there a prominent street food scene in Cuba?
I stood in line for a cafecito while watching a woman pour equal amounts of sugar as coffee into a tiny plastic cup. The streetside facade next door was selling hot dogs to a consistent flow of locals on their way to work. I stopped by a bakery with the longest line on Avenue 10 de Octubre for a 5 cent pan dulce as light as air and bought guava cookies from a man on the street, which I later gave to a dog. I tried Cuban pizza, the flavors of which are nostalgically reminiscent of a pizza bagel. The street food in Havana brings the city to life. It’s a staple part of the local diet and should not be missed.
Q: Did you have the chance to explore any local bodegas? What did you find?
I found 40 jars of mayonnaise, 100 bags of colorful chip-like snacks, pre-rationed bags of rice and beans, various one-off cleaning supplies, and a man selling fresh guava cookies from a cardboard box. Getting the supplies you need is not a one-stop-shop as the bodegas and grocery stores vary in stock tremendously. With restriction comes creativity, making due with what’s available has lead to inventive chefs forging fully sustainable farms, lush markets with a focus on fruits, veggies, and meats, and a new creative class of locals using tech to improve communication and sourcing of essential ingredients and supplies.
Q: Let’s talk cocktails. What was your favorite place to kick back with a drink in Havana?
One of my favorite moments of the trip was with Karel and the wonderful friends he introduced me to. We went to a gas station bodega, grabbed some beers and sat on the Malecón watching vintage cars go by — the best bar in town!
Q: If you could pass along advice to foodies traveling to Cuba, what would it be?
Keep your eyes open for fried chicken, pan dulce, and cafecitos. Try everything that looks good. Do some wandering and make new friends — locals always know where to find the best food.
Photo by: Katie June Burton | @katiefresca on Instagram