Vatsal is a techie and a coffee junkie. Most often he’s caught watching a film with Guinness for company. Preeti loves everything about the mountains. She always has her head buried in a book sipping tea.
We both love traveling and watching films so we decided to document some of it. Hope you enjoy reading as much as we’ve enjoyed traveling and writing about them 🙂
One of the first things you would want to do in Cuba is to buy a drink and enjoy the live music inside the bars or out on the streets. Cuba has many good bars serving amazing cocktails some of which have originated in the country like the famous Mojito, Daiquiri and Cuba Libre.
Havana is alive till late in the night and has some of the best bars with queues around the block. Like Havana’s icon, the American writer, Ernest Hemingway, who lived in Cuba for nearly two decades said, “Don’t bother with churches, government buildings or city squares, if you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars.” And that is what we did, we explored as many as we could in our short four days in Havana.
Cuba is known around the world for its good quality rum. So it’s no surprise that Havana hosts the Havana Club International Cocktail Grand Prix every two years which brings mixologist from across the globe to the city. The cocktails in Cuba are usually strong, they are very generous with their rum. The first drink can get you to a very happy state. So, here is a list of some of the amazing drinks Cuba has to offer. Drink yourself to happiness while you plan your epic trip to Cuba.
My favourite drink in Cuba. It is served in a small clay or stone mug. The cocktail is made of raw rum, honey, lime and ice cubes and can easily pass as the proverbial Indian dadi ka nuskha 🙂 The colonial city of Trinidad is associated with this cocktail but it is said to be born in the eastern part of the island during the Independence war against the Spaniards. It could be then called the original Cuban Cocktail since its origin is rooted in the independence war of the country. It was originally drunk hot to help the soldiers fight the cold and respiratory problem but today it is served with ice cubes.
CUBAN LIBRE AND CUBATA
Dark Rum was the first alcoholic drink that I had with my friends way back in College. Well, it was the cheapest and the only one we could afford back then. A bottle of Old Monk(Indian dark rum) and a bottle of Coca-Cola would last us an entire night. All these years I had no clue that we were drinking a version of a Cuban cocktail.
A few stories revolve around this drink and all of them claim to be true. According to one,an American soldier asked the bartender to mix rum with their new beverage at that time, Coca-Cola. The mix was an instant hit and the bartender toasted to ‘Cuba Libre’ (Free Cuba) from where the drink got its name. The drink definitely celebrates the island’s independence from Spain.
Both Cuba Libre and Cubata are mixed with Cola and a squeeze of lime or wedge.The only and well the main difference is Cubata is made with aged or dark rum and Cuba Libre with white rum. They both are equally refreshing. A must try in Cuba since they use their own Cola, TuCola a diversion from the original recipe which was made using the American Coca Cola. Well, I couldn’t tell the difference.
Mojito is almost a cultural icon in Cuba and most often served as a welcome drink even in the casa’s – the homestays in Cuba. Mojito traces its origin back to the 16th century invented mostly to make the primitive form of rum taste tolerable with the citrus. Anyone who enjoys cocktails must surely have had a mojito. But one must have a mojito in ‘La Bodeguita Del Medio’ in Havana. It’s a small bar in one of the narrow lanes in Old Havana. If you find a place with crowds spilling out onto the streets then you’ve come to the right bar. This is where Ernest Hemingway liked his mojito. It’s an extremely busy bar and on every visitor’s checklist in Havana. With a cheerful atmosphere, live band playing Cuban music and the bartenders mixing batches after batches of glasses while grooving to the music, spending 5 CUC on a glass of mojito is worth it. The walls and tables are full of little messages and names. It is said that the revolutionaries met there and wrote messages to each other hidden in the graffiti. We too put a message on the wall proclaiming our love for mojito 🙂
Like Hemingway said, ‘ My mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in El Floridita’. El Floridita is a bar in Havana most famous for it’s regular, Ernest Hemingway. There is a bronze statue of him inside the bar and one can have a variation of the original one, Hemingway Daiquiri- with grapefruit juice, maraschino liqueur and no sugar since Hemingway was diabetic. The origin of the drink is said to be linked to one of the iron miners on the island. He ran out of gin one night when hosting a few friends and got the most easily available alcohol which was rum and mixed it with lemon, sugar, water and crushed ice. The guest enjoyed the mix so much that he named it Daiquiri, after the nearby beach.
Although this drink was not born in Cuba, is already part of their tradition, and most of the Caribbean islands. It originated from its neighbour, Puerto Rico. It is an exquisite blend of pineapple juice and coconut cream with rum and crushed ice. A classic reminder of teenage summers. One can find this on a street stand as well, a first for us having cocktails from a street stand 🙂
It is a simple drink – buy a natural coconut water, sip some of it to create space for white rum. Add rum and some more and some more and finally a little honey and there it is Coco Loco. The best drink to have after a long walk in the fields. It is a good combination with honey tipped cigar which we got from a farmer we’d met in the tobacco farms.
Like the name suggests, it is a classic Cuban cocktail. When you’re in the country, it’s the one to order. White rum, the three-year-old Havana Club, maraschino liqueur, and fresh pineapple juice are the base for this cocktail, which is served with a slice of pineapple.
El Presidente was created by the bartender of the Jockey Club in Havana in the 1920’s. It has an interesting history linked to America. During the prohibition years when alcohol was illegal in America, people would go down to Cuba to enjoy the Cuban cocktails and El Presidente gained popularity during this time. It was a drink which quickly travelled to the upper class of Havana back in those glorious days. There are lots of recipes but the basic components are dark rum, curacao, white vermouth and a dash of grenadine.
With so many fantastic cocktail options, I did not drink beer at all. But Vatsal loves his beer and stuck to it through our stay. There are two front-runners in Cuba- Cristal and Bucanero.
Cristal is the most common beer in Cuba. It is a light beer with alcohol content at 4.9%. You’d see people walking with a green can of Cristal in their hand. It’s a favourite both with the Cubans and the tourist.
Bucanero is a dark beer and there are of two types, the standard Bucanero fluerte with 5.4% and Bucanero Max with 6.5%. This was Vatsal’s favourite Cuban beer. There are other beers as well like Mayabe but Cristal and Bucanero are the most common beers and can be found in supermarkets and every bar and restaurant.
The natural coconut water is in abundance on the island. The water is very sweet and delicious and they even cut it open for you to enjoy the soft pulp of the coconut.
Freshly squeezed sugarcane juice. They give you the option to add lemon juice to it as sometimes the juice can be too sweet. It’s a very healthy and refreshing drink, one of our favourite drinks in India too. For an extra dollar, they can add white rum and another Cuban cocktail is ready.
Cubans love their coffee. Grab a shot of espresso from a street vendor early morning. He’ll pour it hot and pre-sugared from a flask into a plastic cup. We had the best coffee with the Cuban families we lived with during our stay. The Cuban coffee is so good that one should take some back with them. For a change, I’ve ditched my good old tea and am sipping coffee since we got back. Like in the Cuban film, ‘Strawberry and Chocolate’ when Diego offers David coffee, he says, ‘Coffee! Civilised people drink tea, not us’ 🙂
Here is a short video, The Mojito Swing!
Do you have a favourite drink? Which of these would you try? Tell us in the comments below 🙂