Cuba – Famous for it’s cigars, rums and revolutions!…not so much it’s cakes.
Over the past few weeks i have been bobbing around the island of Cuba, visiting cities and villages in all corners, getting a taste of how the cubans do things. One of the main things that you notice after spending a few days here is that the selection of meals to choose from is somewhat minimal. In fact, there is pretty much one menu for every restaurant. This isn’t so much due to the lack of imaginations on the locals parts, more making the most of what they have access too. Since the country was famously taken over by Fidel Castro’s communist party over 50 years ago, massive restrictions have been made on importing and exporting goods, resulting in a good quality of basic ingredients hard to come by, which is reflected in the types of breads, cakes and general meals they have on offer. However, as you can see from the picture of yours truly attached to this post, the Cuban style of cake decoration completely reflects their outlook on life. Bright colours are used to pipe on dots, swirls and drapes to create a design showing the fun and bright nature of the locals. In the village of Trinidad, where this particular photo was taken, most of the houses, cars and front doors are painted in these bright colours. Although, one thing i would say is that i’m not sure what they are using as food colouring to get these insanely bright colours but after a slice of one of these cakes, you will be trying to remove orange and blue from your tongue/teeth/beard etc for the rest of the afternoon. In fact, i wouldn’t be surprised if they used the same colouring to paint their front doors, it would last for years.
Another place i visited was a small town on the eastern most past of the island called Baracoa. It is actually closer in Kilometres to the Caribbean than it is to the capital of Havana, which is massively reflected in the relaxed atmosphere around the place. The locals are some of the most laid back people i have ever come across, literally, most of them are so drunk on rum/life that they spend a lot of the afternoon horizontal in the town square. There wasn’t an awful lot of cake on offer in this town unfortunately, so i thought the polite thing to do was to try and join in with the local way of life, and at CUC3 (£1) per bottle of rum, it wasn’t difficult to fit in. So without it being big on cake, it certainly is big on chocolate, with cocoa trees growing everywhere. During my time here i was taken to a cocoa farm, which turned out to be a family home with a man feeding a baby whilst watching cock fighting and a wife who knew everything there was to know about the process of chocolate making. The former was interesting, the latter was very interesting. I was able to sample from the very start by tasting the bean straight from the plant which was incredibly sweet, right through to the finished cube of bitter chocolate, which was so moorish that the bar i bought to take home didn’t even make it to the next town, never mind London. On the outskirts of the town is Cuba’s largest chocolate factory, which was opened by Che Guevara himself whilst he was the minister of industry, meaning that Baracoa now churns out Cuba’s most high end bar of chocolate. And if the smell from the outside is anything to go by, i’m pretty sure it is a worthy accolade.
Before heading home i stopped off once more in Havana for a couple of days, arriving at 10pm after a lengthy car journey and as if by magic, the moment i step out of the car a man cycles past with a box on his bike shouting “pastel!” (which ironically is the word for cake, seen as the colours used are anything but pastel). So i was able to get one more taste of a delicious coffee cake a local had baked and was selling by the piece. This was the best tasting sweet treat i’d had the whole time, but i think that might have been something to do with the long, diesel fumed car journey rather than the bake itself. Either way, it perked me up. And that’s one thing discovering the cakes of Cuba taught me, whether its home or abroad, baked using poor quality ingredients or just covered in multicoloured piping, receiving a cake always puts a smile on your face.
Viva la cake!