La Bodeguita del Medio – Take a Trip to Cuba
How I’ve always wanted to visit Cuba! What visions the word Havana conjures up – mojitos, the mambo, the odor of Cohibas wafting in the breeze! My son is half Cuban, his father was from Santiago. His family never got over having to flee their homeland, the country always had a grip on them which they couldn’t shrug off. But I have no plans to go, so I will just have to settle for memories of lunches in Miami’s Little Havana and my Buena Vista Social Club CD.
So I was happy, strolling on the Malecon (delightful or tacky according to your mood) when I came across La Bodiguita del Medio. The place looks great, the handsome bar imposing, its grey walls scratched with personal hieroglyphics, including a facsimile of Hemingway’s scrawl from the original in Havana – “my mojito in La Bodeguita”. They eliminate “my daiquiri in El Floridita”, the latter actually being his favorite haunt. Havana’s La Bodiguita, which opened in 1942, was frequented by such literati as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Pablo Neruda and glitterati – Brigitte Bardot and Nat King Cole. This one is part of a sort of upmarket chain here in Mexico, so along with your empanadas you get your trusty tacos too.
It’s a pity I don’t drink cocktails as Cuba invented so many wonderful ones, the aforementioned mojito and daiquiri and always the perennially popular Cuba libres. They’ve lots of different variations, so go for that rum fix! Cuban cuisine relies on pork and beef, rice, black beans (oddly they don’t have a black bean soup here), lots of starchy fruit and veg, plantains, manioc (or cassava). Appetizers are meant to be shared; the empanadas ‘del dia’ are The Best. Period. A melt in the mouth experience! I stay on the Cuban side of the menu – they do have a large assortment of tacos and ceviche, which I haven’t tried.
I might have missed it but I don’t think they’ve a Cuban sandwich on the menu, one of the world’s best sandwiches IMHO. When I lived in Puerto Rico there was a little Cuban stand across the street from me and I would regularly breakfast on one alongside a Cuban coffee, guaranteed to keep you up for an alarming amount of time – they’ve got it here but I haven’t tried it and can’t attest to its super-strength.
Pollo Cubano is the speciality of the house, redolent of garlic and that essential Cuban ingredient – cumin. Latin American favorite, picadillo, is generally made with ground beef (unlike ropa vieja which is shredded) but here it veers toward the shredded side. Lime is not traditionally used in Cuba but here they are happy Mexican additions to this spicy dish. Frijoles dormidos (whole black beans) are a wonderful accompaniment, probably made with Cuba’s favorite black turtle beans. Congri is black beans cooked with rice, also called Moros y Cristianos (a wonderful name – up there with Devils on Horseback or Toad in the Hole!). I love the stuff, it goes with everything on the menu. The paella for two could be a bit more interesting but I have eaten it in Spain, in Valencia, so all others pale. I do like a mussel or two in mine, here it has shrimp and lots of chicken and pork.
Finish up with one of their outstanding flans – I love the orange one, but the coconut is equally enticing. So don your party hat (they have live bands for your dancing pleasure) and – Viva Cuba!