If someone asks me about Cuba, the first thing I say is that Cuba is an island full of surprises and as such it’s fascinating and alluring in many aspects. Undoubtedly, there are still a lot of secrets waiting to be discovered, and definitely one of them is the exotic Cuban cuisine. With this post we invite to embark on a journey through the culinary culture of Cuba.
Back to the Roots of Cuban Cuisine
Cuba was inhabited by a mixture of cultures, that contributed to the creation of a totally unique Cuban flavor. The Cuban table doesn’t lag behind other countries and it’s characterized by a combination of sweet and salty flavors, mouth-watering sauces and exquisite liquors.
The indigenous people, who inhabited the island at the time of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in 1492, had their well-defined diet and used typical cooking methods that have preserved and are still practised to this day. Spanish immigrants from different regions of the peninsula brought along some traditional delicious dishes and also learned to savor local delicacies prepared for them by black slaves. At this point their culinary traditions blended in with the legendary cooking wisdom of Africa about recipes, spices and various ingredients. Thus, the secret of a unique flavor of Cuban cuisine lays in the combination of cooking traditions across three continents: Europe, Africa and Central America.
In the easternmost region of the island, the French and the Caribbean inhabitants gave it even more flavor. Later, the immigrants from Asia also made their contribution to the tradition, not to mention a strong influence that came from a distant Italy. This is how a unique Cuban cuisine arises, as a rich mixture of flavors in the middle of a wondrous Caribbean island in its essence and it becomes a significant part of a local tradition and culture.
Traditional Cuban Stews
It is no wonder that Caldosa or Ajiaco is one of the typical dishes that is considered to be a symbol of a very essence of Cuban cuisine. In Cuba, these terms are also used while referring to something that is a mixture of many things. And as a Cuban scholar Fernando Ortiz said: “An ajiaco is a traditional and varied dish, made of meat and vegetables, of an exquisite taste”.
The creation of this dish dates back to the times of slavery as it is based on a Spanish recipe of Jewish origin. Afterwards, it was adapted and modified by African cooks of big sugar cane plantations, who added to it other ingredients and various spices. It is said that when the dish doesn’t include chickpeas among its ingredients, the Cuban cuisine comes with its own identity. This dish is a symbol of a “melting pot”, a mixture of races and cultures that once coexisted on the island. Ajiaco was craved by colonists of the time and it’s still a preferred dish of many Cubans to this day.
This delicious and hearty dish is a must-have on Cuban tables during family celebrations, friendly gatherings and festivals. It is no secret to anyone who truly knows the current customs of Cubans, that Caldosa livens up the atmosphere. Therefore, it cannot be missing on a table, especially if the party is organized for many guests.
The best place to taste authentic traditional Cuban cuisine is, undoubtedly, casa particular (which is type of a private accommodation; homestay), where your Cuban hosts can prepare delicious Cuban stews especially for you.
An example of a Cuban dinner in casa particular Ivette & Ronel in Playa Girón, in the Bay of Pigs. Click here and learn more about this casa.
The recipe has its variations, one that is more common in the western and central part of the island, called mainly Ajiaco and the other, which is used mostly in the eastern regions of Cuba, known as Caldosa. Recently, it is the term Caldosa that has been popularized, but still there’s an ongoing debate on similarities and differences between both of them. In truth, both contain basically the same ingredients. However, Ajiaco recipe is a bit more accurate and you have to follow it strictly, while Caldosa allows more variations in its preparation.
Given the historical background, the term Caldosa was coined in the early 1980s, when a traditional music composer mentioned it in the lyrics of one of his popular songs called “La Caldosa de Kike y Marina”. A couple named Kike and Marina served him this dish in Las Tunas, one of the provinces in the Eastern Cuba and he just loved its taste.
Ajiaco or Caldosa?
There is no verified theory on how to distinguish Caldosa from Ajiaco, but in practice all Cubans tend to differentiate them by its density. The prevailing theory is that if the stew is seasoned and watery, as well as the meat and vegetables are entire, then it is called Ajiaco. But if at least one part of vegetables falls apart and the soup becomes thick, then it is called Caldosa. Another theory is that Caldosa is just a simpler version of Ajiaco.
Nowadays, these traditional stews are known in all the regions of our country. What is indisputable, is the fact that this dish, whether it’s called Caldosa or Ajiaco, is a real delicacy full of unique exquisite Cuban flavour!