I’ve survived my first foreign trip having been diagnosed with Coeliac disease!
Whilst I’ve been lucky enough to travel to lots of different countries across the world, I must admit that I was quite nervous about this as this was the first time following my diagnosis. Stating the obvious, Cuba is a very different place to Surrey and there was not going to be a gluten free aisle at the local supermarket.
But, what a place. I loved it, incredible sites, sounds and smells. The people we met were incredibly friendly, the architecture in Havana was beautiful, both the decaying and restored buildings (which was great as one of my loves is photography) and the mojitos were always flowing. However I’d not heard good things about the food in Cuba before I left, bland, unseasoned, no choice and at best sloppy! This was so far from the truth, the food was varied, tasty and to the best of my knowledge gluten free
On the first morning at our hotel (The Nacional), I was dismayed to see what seemed to be a large mound of breaded products, buns, cakes and toast, a gluten fuelled nightmare!
But then, I found the fresh fruit, cold meats and even got into a spot of cheese for breakfast. And, luckily there appeared a man who was on hand to produce omelettes to order – so they became my staple breakfast, even coming with a smiley face.
We would then have lunch and dinner out at privately run restaurants (as opposed to state run) called Paladares. You see, the state run restaurants tend to have little interest in what they produce – meaning that both food and service is lacking. But the Paladares we went to were great – I can’t remember them all but highlights included wonderful seafood – grilled prawns, lobster and red snapper, carpaccio of beef and octopus, cerviche and steaks cooked perfectly to order.
A couple of places to highlight:
Firstly, La Casa de Sarah on the Western outskirts of Havana, in an old fishing village called Santa Fe. It is a simple wooden, private beach-front house run by a lovely lady called Sarah where you can stay or as we did, go for lunch. We had typical Cuban food here (no choice) – super tender slow cooked pork, rice and beans, tapioca and salads. All washed down with a few rums and some Chilean wine.
Casa Sarah also has a beautiful jetty with sofas at the end of it under a thatched roof, the perfect place to watch the sunset from with another rum or fruit juice.
Secondly was a simply gorgeous restaurant with an amazing menu, Vista Mar restaurant, again to the west of Havana. Plenty of choice without any gluten – from fresh seafood to meat dishes and fantastic sides, the best sweet potato chips, plantain tapioca and refried beans that tasted like nothing I’d ever had before. I went for a real treat – lobster tail with some red snapper, not to be missed.
A final recommendation is lunch at Chef Ivan Justo Paladar in Havana, again we had a mixture of food laid out for us – chicken, pork and fish with a mixture of fresh salads, tapioca and rice with beans. It was so simple but perfectly cooked and again, everything was OK for me to eat. You can see more about this restaurant here: http://bit.ly/1rXpJup
A couple of watch outs, a lot of the starters were likely to contain gluten – particularly the croquettes, anything with batter (prawns, veg and whitebait) and obviously all the bread. Likewise the deserts did tend to be more gluten based, key lime pie, chocolate tart and caramel puddings with biscuit bases but there was generally always some ice cream which was fine for me and had no ill effect.
Of everything on my trip, I found the most difficult thing in Cuba was not being able to have an ice cold beer whilst watching the world go past. This still remains the biggest sacrifice, something I’m getting used to but there is just ‘something’ about having a beer when on holiday. Still, without a doubt I will be returning to this wonderful island full of smiles, it should hold no fear for anyone with Coeliac disease or need of a gluten free diet, provided you are willing to explore outside of the hotel.
Cheers to that.