Cuba is in the news for all the right reasons. President Obama just popped over for an unprecedented visit – part of the painfully slow normalisation of US-Cuba relations.
Détente between the two nations isn’t welcomed by everyone though. A few Western journalists have taken to Twitter to lament Cuba’s impending Americanisation. They're particularly worried about the entrance of a well-known fast food multinational that makes tasty burgers, fries and shakes at a reasonable price.
Despite the poverty inflicted through devastating Marxist-Leninist policies and the failing (on its own terms) trade embargo, Cuba has a lot going for it. However, food isn’t one of the them.
How communism killed Cuban food
Having stayed in Havana for three months I can count on one finger the number of decent meals I ate. And the cocktails were well below the standard you get across the Straits of Florida – yes, even the sacred Daiquiri in Hemingway's La Floridita.
It could have been so different. When Fidel Castro came to power in 1959 many Chinese people didn’t take too kindly to him expropriating their property, so swiftly left the island to build anew in America. Without this great Chinese takeaway and the blunting of competition, Cuban food wouldn’t be so mercilessly bland; and without the embargo, new ingredients and skills in bartending might have kept pace.
We know this because of the existence of Asia de Cuba – London’s iconic restaurant on St Martins Lane. Chef Luis Pous, who was raised and trained as a chef in Cuba, has just released a new menu which tries to interpret what Asian-influenced Cuban food would have been like today if Cubans had been able to innovate and evolve their cuisine over the past 50 years.
Pairing up could be the answer
Part of Asia de Cuba's new menu includes a Mojito and ceviche pairing menu – six mini sugarcane juice cocktails served alongside six of their ceviche.
Shrimp Ceviche with the peachy Tocoroco cocktail; Calamari Ceviche with the zingy ginger-based Mariposa Fizz; Red Snapper Ceviche with a Coconut-Cane cocktail; Cobia Ceviche with Brigadier’s blackberry cocktail; Grouper Ceviche with the orange Guarapo. Although I wouldn’t necessarily describe these as Mojitos – they don’t have ice, crushed or otherwise – each rum-based shot packs a unique and delicious punch.
London’s Asia de Cuba may have been around since 1999, but the Mojito and ceviche pairing prove it still has the guts to experiment. It’s everything food and cocktails in Cuba could, should and one day will be.