Maybe global dining habits are changing. Did you know that there has been a 360% increase in the number of vegans in the UK over the last 10 years? It’s not as though vegetarian restaurants are a rare site in many cities either. But there are some places where vegetarianism is still a strange novelty, and one of these places is Cuba. You’re going to have a stunning time on the island nation, but you might be concerned about your options when you have specific dietary requirements. Pescatarians won’t have a problem, with an abundance of fresh seafood hauled right out of the ocean and sent straight to the kitchen. In all honesty, vegans might encounter issues when trying to follow their diet in Cuba, although it’s not impossible.
When it comes to the best vegetarian spots to eat in Cuba, there are an increasing number of choices. This is largely due to fairly recent deregulations to the laws governing private businesses in Cuba. It’s easier to open a restaurant, and an increasing number of visitors has resulted in that increasing number of choices. Before we look at some of the best vegetarian dining options in Cuba, let’s look at a few general tips.
In terms of street vendors, your choices will be somewhat limited. There are a lot of inexpensive pizza vendors around (of varying quality), but in terms of vegetarian selection, you might have to opt for a cheese pizza to be sure. There are a lot of street vendors who sell sandwiches piled up behind glass cabinets, and you will need to double check that their wares do not contain meat. Sometimes it feels like the Cuban definition of vegetarian is something that “only has a little bit of meat.” There are a lot of places that sell fresh corn on the cob, and this is often the best choice, vegetarian or otherwise.
You also need to be wary when it comes to how your vegetarian food is prepared. This is particularly true when you’re staying at a Casa Particular (the Cuban equivalent of a bed and breakfast). While your hosts will do everything they can to accommodate your dietary requirements, it must be remembered that vegetarianism is not widespread in Cuba. This means that your vegetarian food might be cooked in animal fat, or in vegetable oils that were just used to cook meat. You need to mention this to your hosts if it’s an issue for you.
While somewhat rare, you might also choose to go for a self-catering holiday in Cuba, which will involve preparing your own meals. You will be hard-pressed to find a great vegetarian selection in the local supermarkets (unless you’re a fan of eating vast quantities of rice and beans). You should ask about the location of any farmer’s markets in your immediate areas. These rustic markets are far-removed from the farmer’s markets that have popped up all over the world with artisanal cheeses and 237 different kinds of olives. The Cuban version is simply a gathering of stalls selling fresh, reasonably-priced fruit and vegetables. In smaller towns, these “markets” might be little more than roadside stands, but they generally offer a better selection of fresh produce than the supermarkets.
Vegetarian Dining in Cuba
It’s important to remember that there are few (and in some towns, none at all) purely vegetarian restaurants in Cuba. The tastiest vegetarian options can generally be found in restaurants that simply have meat-free choices on their menus. So what are some of the best places on the island that are likely to tickle your tastebuds without the need for meat?
1. Havana: California Cafe
The words “fusion cuisine” might cause your eyes to roll, but when it’s done well, it can be a taste revelation. The California Cafe takes traditional Cuban cuisine and puts their own unique twist on it. The end results are delicious and delightfully unpretentious. Try the veggie burger, plantain chips, or the eggplant tower. Or… just try it all. Located at Calle 19 (Between N and O), Havana.
2. Havana: Cafe Bohemia
While they serve Cuban classics, there is a distinctive Italian influence on the menu at Cafe Bohemia. It’s a perfect choice for a light lunch, and you should be sure to browse their salad selection. The humble salad can be surprisingly difficult to track down in Cuba, but Cafe Bohemia has got you covered, and then some… Located at San Ignacio 364, Havana.
3. Trinidad: Sol Ananda
Set in a glorious colonial home in Trinidad (with the various rooms converted into dining spaces), Sol Ananda is a popular spot (so arrive early or make a reservation). They serve Cuban food with many dishes that seem to have an Asian inspiration to them. Many vegetarian options on offer too. Located on the Plaza Mayor, Trinidad.
4. Trinidad: The Trinidad Jazz Cafe
Make sure you head to this unassuming dining spot if you should ever get tired of the more-or-less constant salsa music you’ll hear throughout Cuba. As the name of the cafe would suggest, they feature live jazz music. A big drawcard for vegetarians is the delightful self-service salad bar. There are also more hearty meat and vegetarian choices on the menu. Located at Gloria and Media Luna 361, Trinidad.
5. Santiago de Cuba: Roy’s Terrace Inn
This Santiago de Cuba institution has a fair number of vegan and vegetarian options. The menu is not expansive, but this means that what they do is done very well indeed. The best choice is a type of vegetarian tapas (for lack of a better description), which is a variety of delicately seasoned vegetable dishes served on individual plates. Located at Santa Rita 177, Santiago de Cuba.