Challenging the popular belief that food sucks in Cuba; Lamparilla 361

As I mentioned briefly in my previous post, I researched far and wide on the food in Cuba, determined to make this a foodie destination, much as I do everywhere else. Armed with my notebook and laptop, I took down restaurant names, addresses, must-try local dishes and recommendations from friends and landed in Havana with an arsenal of possibility.

Everything I read online told me to arrive in Cuba with your expectations low in regards to food – the food is bland and lacks spice and flavour, and consists mainly of meat rice and beans. So get those expectations as low as when you tear up the dance floor to Flo-Rider.

But I’m here to tell you that these people are so damn wrong!

The culinary scene in Cuba has evolved at rocket speed over the last few years, since the legalisation of Cubans being able to own private restaurants. I haven’t even set food in a government-run establishment yet! There’s just too much to try!

Our first few days in Havana saw us eating everywhere, from street churros posted on my Instagram to the gorgeous famed restaurant “La Guarida”. But today I am going to speak about my first experience of actually eating cuban local dishes. This was already day 3, I am ashamed to say, but the the choice at all our chosen restaurants was borderline overwhelming! So it was time I ate some good Cuban food, without having to sit at a state restaurant.
Enter Lamparilla 361 in old Havana, small but with an open-to-the street interior that invites anyone and everyone inside. This place is the kind of restaurant where you arrive at 1pm for lunch and end up leaving at 6pm with your belly full to bursting and your laughter trailing behind. Lamparilla 361’s charmingly overcrowded interior will see you bumping elbows with your neighbour and clamouring around seemingly random furniture on the way to the bathroom, amidst antique relics and eclectic deco. The staff are genuine and easygoing, and the food is so full of flavour that I’m surprised there isn’t a queue down the block at all times of the day and night.

Ropa Vieja is a Cuban dish that involves shredded beef slow cooked in a tomato sauce. Nothing to do with its translation of “Old Clothes” (but hilarious when you read an English translations on a menu). Let me tell you. This was so good that Lachie has had it 3 times in the 2 days since! What an introduction to Cuban food. The beef in this dish is so tender and the sauce is slightly sweet which I hadn’t expected but welcomed gladly. Accompanied with the standard rice and beans, it was extremely filling!

We also wanted to try Enchilado, typically a fish dish but here at Lamparilla 361 they offered a crab version which we were glad to try. This is cooked in a wine and spicy tomato sauce, and they served it in a bread bowl which soaked up the sauce nicely and let’s be honest – looked adorable.

Finally we also tried Costillitas, baby back ribs which are marinated in lime, garlic, oregano and sour orange juice. The meat fell of the bone so much so that the bones looked polished at the end of the meal! The sour orange juice added an interesting tang, not bad at all.

They even served us these lovely appetizers – pumpkin and ginger cold soup. Delicious.

This meal was but one of the many we have enjoyed since we landed in Cuba almost a week ago. I can honestly say that we have not had a single bad meal. I have many place to tell you about and many more meals to share, and I can say with absolute confidence that if you decide to take a trip to Cuba and eat at the right places, you will not be disappointed!

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