7 Must-Try Foods While in Cuba

For a truly unique Caribbean family experience, consider taking a cruise to Cuba. This island nation, with its blend of African, Spanish and Native American cultures, has much to offer visitors. Once your ship arrives at port, you can enjoy Havana and the surrounding areas by participating in Carnival’s shore excursions. These carefully-planned trips introduce you to the people and culture of Cuba, and give you a chance to sample authentic Cuban food.

people enjoying a lunch break at a street restaurant in havana, cuba

Carnival’s ships always have delicious food options onboard, but when you’re on vacation, you should take the opportunity to try something new. Every country has its own must-try foods, and a few of the shore excursions include food tasting or a meal in the itinerary.

Two full-day excursions, Explore the Countryside: Las Terrazas and Top 10 Best of Havana, provide a local meal, while two shorter excursions, Sights and Sounds of Havana and Local Flavors and Traditions of Havana, give you a chance to taste traditional Cuban fare. These are the seven must-try Cuban eats in Havana, Cuba.

Top 7 Cuban Foods in Havana

Certain shore excursions will take you to privately owned restaurants. These in-home restaurants provide authentic Cuban cuisine. In fact, some have been in business for many years and are well-known. While menus change regularly depending on the availability of ingredients, the following are the best Cuban dishes to seek out and experience.

In Paladares

1. Ropa Vieja

Perhaps the most well-known Cuban food, ropa vieja, is a shredded meat dish traditionally made with beef but now generally made with lamb. The meat is braised in a tomato-based sauce with onions and peppers until tender, and it is usually served over rice.

ropa vieja dish with black beans and plantains

2. Lechon Asado

Pork is arguably the most popular meat in Cuba, and it stars in many local dishes. Lechon asado is spit-roasted pig, cooked until the skin is crispy. You may even get to see a pig roasting in one of the food stalls. If you want, you can try the fried pork rind on its own – it’s called “chicharrones.” Lechon asado is often served with a sauce called mojo, which is made with garlic, spices, oil, onion and a small amount of bitter orange or lime juice.

lechon asado dish from Havana, cuba

3. Moros y Cristianos

Virtually every Cuban meal is accompanied by some variation of rice and beans. Moros y cristianos (literally, Moors and Christians) is white rice and black beans cooked together in garlic, oil and other spices.

a dish of moros y cristianos (cuban rice and beans)

In the Plazas and Markets

If you’re more interested in snacking as you explore the city’s plazas during certain shore excursions, you have plenty of delicious options available.

4. Sweet And Savory Fritters

Cuban markets are filled with all kinds of fried treats. Be sure to try these:

  • Churros: The dough is fried until crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and then sprinkled with sugar.

churros sprinkled with sugar

  • Chicharritas de platanos: These fritters are paper-thin slices of plantain fried in oil. They resemble potato chips.
  • Frituras de malanga: Malanga, a root vegetable similar to potato but with a nutty flavor, is mixed with egg and crushed garlic, and then deep-fried until the crust is crispy and golden.
  • Tostones: These are flattened pieces of plantain, fried until crusty on the outside and tender on the inside.

a dish of tostones, or fried plantains

5. Guarapo

When you get thirsty, accompany your snack with a refreshing local beverage. Guarapo is the sweet juice of freshly-pressed sugar cane, served on ice. Since guarapo doesn’t keep, it must be pressed and squeezed on the spot using a traditional machine called a trapiche, and then served immediately. Look for one to know you’re getting the best.

a street vendor pours fresh sugarcane juice into glasses for customers

6. Ice Cream

One particular dessert — ice cream — is loved by tourists and locals alike. Look for ice cream parlors during shore excursions to sample this delicious treat. Flavors vary daily, and those made from local fruits such as pineapple and coconuts are particularly good.

7. Medianoche

This meal is similar to a Cuban sandwich, except a medianoche uses egg bread instead of the Cuban bread used for Cubanos in the United States. Medianoche, which means “midnight,” got its name due to its popularity as a midnight meal in Havana’s nightclubs.

a medianoche sandwich

Now that you’ve had your taste buds tempted, plan to try as many of these Cuban foods as you can. Travel to Cuba is a relatively new adventure for Americans but Carnival makes it easy with 2 ships, Carnival Paradise and Carnival Sensation, now sailing to Havana from Tampa and Miami respectively. Once your ship is in port, head out on one of the many shore excursions to enjoy the sights, sounds and, especially, the Cuban food.