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I'm going to Cuba in February. As a vegetarian, food is always a challenge.

The most common problems for me:

  • I don't know the language very well
  • The concept of vegetarianism is unusual or non-existent in the culture I'm visiting

When I was in Mexico, there was a breakfast dish that was called Huevos a la Mexicana that consisted of eggs scrambled with tomatoes, onions, and green peppers (if I remember correctly). As this was a common dish, the ingredients where almost never explicitly written on the menu.

Are there any common vegetarian plates in Cuba? And secondly, if I say that I'm a vegetarian, will I get vegetarian food?

I'm an Ovo-lacto vegetarian which means I eat dairy products and eggs but not meat or seafood.

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You may want to read: vegancuba.com, by an American vegan who spend some time on Cuba. –  Peter Hahndorf Jan 21 '12 at 12:19
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@PeterHahndorf I think you should put your comment in an answer with some more context. I no one else give a better answer in a couple of days I will accept it. –  tidbeck Jan 22 '12 at 1:02
    
From what I hear, the staple meal of Cuba is "beans and rice", so the challenge won't be finding vegetarian meals, but finding nourishing meals. –  hippietrail Jan 22 '12 at 8:46
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@hippietrail The plate is actually called "Moors and Christians" ("Moros y cristianos" in Spanish) and it is usually prepared with pork-based products such as bacon and sausages. –  yms Feb 3 '12 at 2:39

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

There's an interesting read on what to expect at VeganCuba.com It's more towards Vegans than just vegetarians, so some of it may be relevant to you.

The Havana Times newspaper has published a great piece a couple of years ago entitled "A Vegetarian in Cuba" (I'm hearing that to the tune of Sting's "Englishman in New York"). It's written by a local, and describes the difficulties faced both at home in the kitchen, in the culture, and out in the street food. It goes on to mention differences over the past few years, how some restaurants sprang up selling more vegetarian options, but that for some reason the past couple of years street foods have largely returned to selling their staple hotdogs or pork:

El Viky is now a Creole food restaurant. When I asked one of the servers why they had stopped being vegetarian, her answer was that it was not profitable – it didn’t sell; “Cuban’s are not vegetarians,” she figured.

It seems it may be hard, but like anywhere, if you explain, learn some basic Spanish phrases to say you don't eat meat and are vegetarian, there are certainly usually some alternatives - which the author has returned to themselves.

Further sites which may give you ideas - some Cuban vegetarian recipe websites. If they exist on here, it must be possible to ask for these items in Cuba, hopefully...

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I just remember, that I was actually vegetarian when I was on Cuba in 2004. I did a package tour for one week and we ate at tourist restaurants where they always had vegetarian options, but most of the time it was an omelette! Some of the black beans with rice were really tasty but you get tired of them after a while. Fried plantains and basics salads were also common. The second week I traveled independently and tried some street food and also eat at Paladares (small private restaurants in people's houses). Again there were options but I did not find any really good vegetarian dishes.

I did not go to any of the vegeterian restaurants listed on Happy Cow, but you can check them out.

I think Cuban tourist restaurants understand the concept of vegetarianism, but it always helps if you can tell them in Spanish: 'Yo soy vegetariano', or just 'Yo no como carne', 'No comer pescado' (I don't eat meat/fish). You can also take a small piece of paper with these phrases written down that you can show to the waiter. This is very useful in countries like China.

Further reading: vegancuba.com by an American vegan who spend some time on Cuba.

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It's going to suck. Because it's a poor country, people eat what they can. In some places, that means hardly any meat and lots of rice. In cuba, not so much.

I've heard that it's getting better in Havana, so you may be able to get some variety there in restaurants.

Since you're ovo-lacto, I suspect you'll end up eating a lot of eggs with various veggies, either scrambled or otherwise. Ordering omelets with pepers, potatoes, and other fruit and veg will be your best course.

Think of it like being a poor student in Paris, eating a lot of crêpes. :-)

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The main reason for vegetarians to have a bad time in Cuba is not for lack of vegetables, since vegetables are in general cheaper than meat. The main reason is the Cuban culture, where vegetarianism is seen as a bad word. –  yms Feb 3 '12 at 2:45
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You're absolutely correct, and my first paragraph was a disaster. I left off that meat was more abundant and available compared to other areas with similar economic positions. –  Art Taylor Feb 3 '12 at 19:41

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