Bread and Roses in Havana

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Food in Cuba is a conundrum. Coming from Canada, a culture/country that increasingly fetishizes food and chefs, Cuba can feel like a food desert which is weird because they can grow food all year, they are surrounded by ocean and there is a lot of grazing land for animals. You often find yourself asking “where is all the food???”. Making meals there is an exercise in creativity, resourcefulness and good fortune. Finding anything in the stores other than canned vegetables, tubes of pressed meat, sodas and booze is a miracle. Mostly you end up buying things on the black market with the help of very resourceful friends. While there are small urban farms attached to markets and new little veggie stands  every few blocks they are selling a very limited array of underripe fruit and veg. You can’t even find what we would call bread there. Bread is government grade, mass produced with very low quality flour into something that resembles a fat baguette that is rock hard on the outside, almost mushy on the inside and so crumbly that the crust is dust by the time you get it to your mouth. It makes us sad for Cubans who have come to think of this as bread. But we get it-60 years of revolution is complicated and at least everyone has something to eat which is a lot more than can be said for most other wealthy countries of the world. It just feels like something has been lost there in the food and delicious departments and we met THE guy who wants to change that.

On our last trip to Havana we met a really great chef and new friend. Alberto Gonzales. It makes your entire trip when you meet someone who has a similar spanglish food vernacular as you do and does their darnedest to push beyond what is considered popular “cuban cuisine” with very limited resources. Alberto has spent years on and off cooking in various parts of Italy, including a stage at El Bulli in Spain and has come back to Havana to open an artisinal bakery. Which reeeeally isn’t allowed because the government controls bread production on the island. Which is why its called “sausage pizza”…It’s complicated. Despite having very different styles and methods, Alberto and Grant spent a day and a few nights in the kitchen making and chatting about bread and life. We cooked and ate several meals together and we look forward to visiting on future trips. Thank you Alberto for your incredible resilience and hospitality. We can’t wait to visit you and your inspiring bakery again.

If you find yourself in Havana, be sure to drop by Salchipizza bakery for some bread you won’t be finding anywhere else on the island. You can also pre-arrange dinners with chef Alberto. Do it. You will not be disappointed.

Salchipizza – 562 Calle Infanta btwn Valle and Zapata.

Here is a link to a more in depth interview by Yoani Sanchez:

http://translatingcuba.com/you-have-to-eat-a-bread-that-has-dignity-14ymedio-yoani-sanchez/

 

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