THE DISH: After Havana, every cocktail seems weak

Rum is a big part of the Cuban culture.

My mojito at the Bodeguita in Trinidad de Cuba - I thought it was pretty good. Note to reader - all you need is one! PHOTO| ABIGAIL ARUNGA 

IN SUMMARY

  • The Cubans have the rum that you all know and love, of course – Havana Club, what they call el ron de Cuba – the rum of Cuba.
  • In all its variations, it is sold all over the country at the exact same price, because of the benefits of having a government influenced economy.

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While I'm still on subject of Cuba and my holiday hangover (look! A pun!), I might as well talk about the alcohol in Cuba as well, which missed out on a mention during my food-oriented article.

It would be erroneous of me to not talk about the alcohol in Cuba, simply because, it is one of Cuba's main three food groups. I know it sounds like I'm joking, but I'm not. Cubans seem to subsist on a diet made up of rum, cigars and coffee.

Ok, I am joking, but rum is a big part of the culture. There's a huge statue of Jesus in a suburb in Havana called Casa Blanca.

They call it the Cuban Jesus, because unlike typical Christ representations a la Christ the Redeemer (Christ with his hands stretched out), Cuban Jesus looks like he's posing with a cigar in one hand and a glass of rum in the other.

Cuban Jesus in Casa Blanca, officially known as Christ of Havana. PHOTO| ABIGAIL ARUNGA 

THE RUM YOU KNOW AND LOVE

The Cubans have the rum that you all know and love, of course – Havana Club, what they call el ron de Cuba – the rum of Cuba. In all its variations, it is sold all over the country at the exact same price, because of the benefits of having a government influenced economy. Unlike here, where you go to the airport and a bottle of anything is about three times its normal price, everything is standardised over there.

Now that that's out of the way, I have honestly never had a better mojito than I did there – and not just at Ernest Hemingway's favourite bars.

The urban legend goes that the best mojito is at La Bodeguita Del Medio in Havana, and the best daquiri is at another bar called El Floridita. Apparently, Hemingway himself helped to conceive the recipes behind these sterling drinks.

A quick warning – if you want to go have those cocktails, be prepared to spend about 7 CUC (equivalent to 7 dollars) to do so – and yes, this is expensive for Cuba. There's a lot of hype around these bars, and there are always lines outside them, and because La Bodeguita is so small, it is always full.

What a piña colada actually looks like on a beach in Santa Maria - they take out the entire inside of the pineapple and fill it with alcohol, then give you two rings you can nibble on as you imbibe. PHOTO| ABIGAIL ARUNGA 

But like I said, I've never had a better mojito – just not in that bar. Generally Cubans make a mean cocktail – so much so that I've been side eyeing Kenyan bartenders about the quantities of alcohol they put into a drink.

Maybe it's different over there because there's so much rum to go around, but really, after Havana, everything else just seems weak.

I think this could be for many reasons, other than drinking at one of the birthplaces of rum and Kenyans shirking on amounts because of accounts. It could also be that the cocktails are good, and cheap. A drink will set you back 300 or 400 shillings on average. Good quality at a good price always adds some extra flavour, right?

A daquiri at Finca Del Mar - also very tasty. PHOTO| ABIGAIL ARUNGA 

Maybe they've just been drinking cocktails a lot longer than we have. I've never liked piña coladas, but again, I had the best one of my life at a little restaurant called Finca Del Mar in Cienfuegos, which insisted on playing American folk music at the so-called bar – but which had such excellent balance in sweetness and alcohol, I may have to go back to Cienfuegos just for that.

Piña coladas are always too sweet, and never effective if your particular destination that day is not the beach, if you get my drift.

NOT MUCH OF A BEER DRINKER

I'm not much of a beer drinker, but it feels like a travesty to go all the way to a country and not hold all their ales up next to Tusker. Their most popular local beers – for tourists, anyway, served in most hotels because of their pricing - Cristal and Bucanero, were a bit light in comparison.

Cristal was a warm golden colour, and tasted more like a dry cider as opposed to a beer. Bucanero is more of a stout ale, and thus a bit darker, and sharper.

Cuban beer - Cristal. PHOTO| ABIGAIL ARUNGA 

Just go there with the full understanding that you're not in Kenya any more, and watch the effects of whatever you're drinking – I promise you, it'll be potent and you'll never be the same when you come back. And yet still, my favourite Cuban drink remains guava juice. My search continues...

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Wondering where to get the 411 on what's happening in Nairobi's foodie scene? There's a lot of places you could go, but here's where we want you to be – getting the dish on the dish. Get it? We knew you would.

 

 

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