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Traditional Cuban Foods You Need to Try

Cuban food is widely-renowned for its incredible flavor and variety of choice. It takes a lot of influence from African, Spanish and Carribean cuisine, resulting in a unique blend of delicious tasting food.

While traditional Cuban cuisine is generally meat-centric, there is also a focus on tropic produce like plantains and guava. This makes many Cuban dishes appealing not only to meat-lovers, but also vegetarians.

traditional cuban foods arranged on a table

However, the thing you’ll struggle with most when it comes to Cuban food is the sheer amount of choice, and the wide variety of traditional dishes there are to gorge on. All this choice can sometimes be overwhelming, so we’ve tried to help with that.

The Top Cuban Cuisine Dishes

Listed below are 16 of the best traditional Cuban foods we recommend trying in your lifetime. With these in mind, we hope you’ll be better informed and less daunted when finding the best Cuban dishes for you.

  1. Ropa Vieja
  2. Vaca Frita
  3. Tostones
  4. Picadillo
  5. Pernil
  6. Masitas
  7. Tamales
  8. Rice and Beans
  9. Yuca
  10. Boliche
  11. Bunuelos
  12. Guava Basted Ribs
  13. Mojo
  14. Rabo Encendido
  15. Cuban Black Bean Soup
  16. Cuban Sandwich

Ropa Vieja

For meat-lovers out there, the first inclusion on this list is Ropa Viega, a dish that consists of shredded beef simmered to perfection in a flavorful tomato sauce and served over a bed of white rice.

The name of the dish translates to “old cloths”, due to the ease in which you can stir leftovers into the recipe.


Vaca Frita

This popular and delicious skirt steak is cooked with fresh herbs and spices, and braised until perfectly tender. If you think the appearance of Vaca Frita is enough to make your mouth water, just wait until you try it.

Many people like to add extra zing to the dish with lemon-infused onions and peppers. It is very similar to a stir fry.


Tostones

These are flat, twice-fried plantains that are both moorish and delicious. The first fry ensures the inside is cooked, while the second fry provides the crispy outer crust.

Tostone is then sprinkled with salt and typically served as a side to many dishes, or just simply a comfort food to enjoy on it’s own.


Picadillo

Picadillo is one of Cuba’s best traditional foods to try when visiting. It is made with ground beef, potatoes, olives, and sometimes raisins for extra sweetness.

This is all then cooked in wine and seasonings – a proper hearty meal!


Pernil

One of the most succulent dishes you’ll ever try. This tender roast pork shoulder is incredibly popular.

A marinade of garlic and citrus serves to infuse the meat, while the slow roasting ensures it falls beautifully off the bone.


Masitas

These cuban fried pork chunks are a staple of traditional Cuban cuisine.

Tender on the inside, yet crunchy on the outside, they are packed full of flavor and typically served with rice and sweet plantains.


Tamales

One of the rare few indigenous foods that has remained in Cuba and is still cooked the traditional way. Tamales are made with freshly ground corn and a ton of seasoning, all packed up into corn leaves before cooking.

These are found all over Cuba, and a must-try if you want to experience the best Cuban food.


Rice and Beans

Yep, you read that correctly. Rice and beans are the traditional Cuban food that are typically served on the side of many other dishes.

Very simple, yet extremely tasty, there are a number of variations that are cooked across the country.


Yuca

Another very popular food, especially when steamed in a garlic-heavy mojo sauce (you’ll learn more about this a little later).

Yuca is another word for cassava root, a starch sharing many of the same characteristics as a potato. You can eat Yuca either like french fries, baked or steamed.


Boliche

This traditional Cuban dish is eye round beef roast stuffed with chorizo sausages. The beef is usually cooked with onions for added flavor and then served with rice, Yuca and a handful of fried plantains – a meal packed full of fantastic Cuban flavors.

One of the best around – if you like meat, that is.


Bunuelos

Bunuelos are small, light and flaky doughnuts made out of Yuca. They are distinctive in their shape, fried in a figure of eight, although this is sometimes difficult to achieve consistently.

Cuban bunuelos are typically dipped in a sauce made of anise.


Guava Basted Ribs

One of the best Cuban foods to fully gorge on, this dish is incredible for your taste buds. The ribs should be brazed to be glossy, just ensure they are coated in plenty of guava BBQ sauce as you don’t want them to look dry on your plate.

These ribs are great to indulge on after a busy day and will leave you feeling fully satisfied.


Mojo

As mentioned earlier when discussing Yuca, Mojo is a marinade and dipping sauce which tastes great on pretty much anything.

It’s made from large amounts of lime and garlic, as well as a whole host of other tasty spices to add extra depth of flavor.


Rabo Encendido

In this dish, oxtail is simmered in a savory tomato-based stew until it is cooked perfectly and subsequently falling off the bone.

The dish is then doused in a delicious-tasting marinade. Typically, Rabo Encendido is paired with a generous helping of fluffy rice and a handful of, yep you guessed it, fried plantains.


Cuban Black Bean Soup

Made from a blend of black beans, oregano and avocados, this dish is a traditional delicacy and too delicious to miss out on.

If you eat meat and fancy an extra twist, bacon is sometimes added to the hearty soup for further flavor. One of the best Cuban dishes for vegetarians (without the bacon, of course).


Cuban Sandwich

Last but by no means least, is the traditional Cuban sandwich. Take two slices of flaky and warm Cuban bread, fill them with pork, ham, swiss cheese, pickles and mustard, and you simply can’t go wrong. It is popular in many countries across the world, and with good reason!

Final Thoughts

You can’t go wrong with trying any of the items from our list above. These Cuban dishes are sure to please any palate looking for Latin cooking. Whether you want to try making them at home or visit your local Cuban Restaurant

Other notable mentions that just missed out on the list include: medianoche, arroz con pollo, deviled crabs, Cuban chicken fricassee and costillitas.

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Written by Ryan F.

Ryan is a Philadelphia local who enjoys checking out Philly's restaurant scene every chance he can. He grew up in South Jersey and now lives in Philadelphia's Point Breeze neighborhood.