Cuba has a reputation with vegetarian travellers as a somewhat tough destination. While other nearby islands have embraced vegetarian cooking and culture, Cuba has been somewhat slower to adopt the vegetarian lifestyle, but vegetarian travellers who are looking for sunshine and have booked a holiday in Cuba can find suitable meals there. It’ll just take little bit of time to find the right restaurant for you. Even Happy Cow comes up pretty empty for Cuba recommendations – with only 3 restaurants listed.
Tracing Cuba’s Gastronomic Steps
Cuba has had a rich, varied and sometimes very difficult history, and it’s not uncommon for food rationing or food shortages to dictate what the people eat. As a result, Cubans tend to rely on food that is quick and easy to prepare, with dishes such as ham, pizza and ice cream, and it’s not uncommon for street vendors to sell foods like this.
Since food has been so scarce and so controlled in Cuba, many Cubans don’t understand the concept of vegetarianism. As a result, vegetarian food on the island can be limited. These dishes can also be quite generic, and are influenced by the ingredients to hand, and the season, so meat-free dishes like shredded cabbage salad (if you’re lucky, you’ll get this with tomatoes and cucumber), omelettes, fried plantain (which is actually a lot nicer than it sounds) and cheese pizzas or sandwiches are very common.
How to Cope as a Vegetarian in Cuba
While the vegetarian options in Cuba are a touch more limited than they might be elsewhere, attitudes to vegetarianism and veganism as well are slowly changing. In recent years, some of the first vegetarian restaurants have opened on the island, including El Romero, just outside of Havana and there are vegetarian restaurants in Guantanamo and Bayamo.
However, fresh fruit and vegetables are readily available at farmer’s markets, so if you’re staying in accommodation that has a kitchen, you can always cook your own meals, if need be. Also, try the peanuts that the vendors sell near the beach, which are veggie-friendly and delicious, and fresh coconut, which is readily available from local vendors.
Maybe you’re a vegetarian and have been to Cuba before? Do you know of any other places there that would be suitable for vegetarians?
Consider bringing food with you.
With destinations that are hard for vegetarians and vegans, my preference is usually to bring food with me. This can even include a cooler. It’s common for locals to bring back food from overseas trips so bringing a cooler of food doesn’t generally seem strange to airport staff. The most important thing is to make sure you have an adequate protein source for your trip, otherwise it’ll make for a cranky holiday. Also, as I’ve said many times before, don’t be afraid to ask guesthouse/hotel staff to cook food you’ve brought with you. You can explain to them that the reason is a special diet. This is better than going hungry.
Image by Laura, used under Creative Commons license.