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Cuba: Chinese Food and a Festival

by Harley Spiller

Chinese Food in Central and South America

Spring Volume: 2002 Issue: 9(1) page(s): 13, 14, 16, 17, and 20

To understand how Chinese food came to Cuba, a little history is important. Long before Columbus knew anything about Cuba, the native Arawak people had developed a successful civilization. Columbus blundered upon the island in 1492, and by the early 1500's Spain had taken over killing natives and importing Africans as slaves for the sugar cane industry. Spain held firm until 1898 when Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders liberated Cuba. Sadly, the good feelings this engendered between the United States and Cuba soon dissipated. By 1963, things had soured so much that an embargo was imposed.

From 1847 through 1883, one hundred fifty thousand Chinese migrant workers were shipped to Cuban ports to replace freed African slaves and their descendants. The first boatload of Chinese arrived in Havana harbor on June 3, 1847. Immigrants continued to come, from Guangdong, Fujian, Haikou, Macao, and Hong Kong, when it was called Ziang gang. Chinese were brought to Cuba in ships owned by France, Spain, England, North American, Portugal, Holland, Russia, and a handful of other countries. By the 1860's, some thirty thousand Chinese arrived annually. In 1877 immigration peaked at forty thousand men, but had slipped to five thousand by 1970. Only a handful of Chinese move to Cuba these days.

The earliest Chinese immigrants to Cuba lived under worse conditions than the African slaves and thay faced near constant and inhumane exploitation. In another wave, some five thousand Chinese came after attempting to strike it rich in California’s gold rush. Failure to find gold was one reason they left the Pacific Coast. Chinese men had also been victimized by the United States xenophobia; and they were often denounced by Cuba’s first President, Jose Marti. Chinese immigrants were a steady source of cheap labor. They continued entering Cuba through the first decades of the 20th century. They usually settled in urban areas of Cuba and came to be known as hard workers and enterprising traders. Commonly employed at sugar cane plantations, the Chinese men had to either intermarry with African or Creole women, or stay single. Many could not stand the harsh new world and left or committed suicide. Others simply waited it out until their eight-year contracts expired, knowing they could never return to China. Quite a few joined the Cuban liberation movement. They achieved varying ranks in the military and they actively participated in the Cuban War of Emancipation.

During the end of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries, many Chinese workers gained their freedom and began serious cultural resurgence efforts by forming Chinese associations. These associations provided social infrastructure, cemeteries, drug stores, theaters, homes for aged, banks, newspapers, and more. Chinese people had traditionally created associations delineated by their territory of origin, but the associations in Cuba were free to center around other ties, such as economics, arts, sports, political ideas either public or secret, or the need for national representation. Because the immigrants were nearly always male, most marriages that took place were between a Chinese father and Cuban born mother. Most Cubans learned early to spot the phenotypical diversity among Cuban people of Chinese origin.

By 1980, there were more than four thousand Cantonese living in Cuba, but in 2002, there are only three hundred pure-blooded Chinese Cubans, half living in Havana, and most of them elderly. Major associations not in Havana’s Barrio Chino are spread across Cuba in Santa Clara, Camaguey, Crego de Avila, Santiago de Cuba, and Guantanamo. Still, Chinese blood is highly diffused throughout tens of thousands of Cubans, many of whom are called, in a non-derogatory manner, 'Chino' or 'China.'

Chinese culture continues to permeate many aspects of life in Cuba today. Any libertine knows that music is right up there with rum and cigars as Cuba’s finest products, but many are unaware that Cuba’s traditional music groups use three instruments that were first imported by the Chinese: the cornet, the Chinese box, and a drum Cubans call tambares, the same drum used in the traditional Chinese lion dance. In the visual arts, Wilfredo Lam, arguably Cuba’s most famous international artist, is typically Cuban, in that he has a Cuban mother and a Chinese father, with some African blood as well, presumably on his mother’s side. Like many Cubans, Lam is honest about his mixed ancestry.

Early Chinese settlers introduced, cultivated, and helped assimilate into the Cuban diet a number of new vegetables, including pumpkin, cabbage, long green beans, and cucumber. Indeed, in Havana’s marketplace, Mercado Agropecuario Egido on Avenida de Belgica, the only green beans are the very long Chinese variety often called 'snake beans.' Roughly the size of a one hundred fifty seat outdoor café, it is hard to fathom how Cuba’s main food market has no more than fifty foodstuffs.

It seems that while there is an adequate amount of food to feed Cuba’s eleven million people, there is no overabundance of comestibles and severely curtailed selection. The gleam of Havana as a mid-20th century paradise, the world’s hottest nightspot, and a top cruise ship destination for international jet setters, is gone, nothing more than memories and a faded swizzle stick or two. Lobster is now endangered, a result of slaughter for tourist plates or export for hard currency, yet it is still available. We ate a luscious home-cooked Cuban Lobster Enchilada in a deep and delicate tomato and aji cachucha sauce. Sea turtles have already been eaten into near extinction and rare to see on menus although during the 1970's large tour groups were fed turtle steak regularly.

Restaurants, snack bars, and markets alike might have one, two, three or six offerings on a given day. Small signs are posted in racks that can advertise a maximum of eight items. People wait in long lines for things like fresh bread and newspapers, some only to sell it to those who can afford to pay a little extra not to have to wait in line. We did not see anyone starving but neither did we see any food going to waste. It has been a long time since Cubans have enjoyed the full marketplaces they enjoyed when things were flush. There no longer exists the diverse larder of ingredients needed to ignite Cuba’s rich international culinary heritage, and it has been so long that many people would not know nor recall the proper taste of a given dish. It is sad to see Cuba’s superb culinary tradition wither.

Cuba’s countryside remains gorgeous, breathtaking. Each province boasts natural beauties, perhaps none as spectacular as Pinar Del Rio, where royal palms sway mightily in fertile valleys ringed by craggy, weather-beaten mountain ranges. Cuba has many fruit orchards with trees of Chinese origin, like the Chinese orange, of which nineteen types exist in Cuba. The traditional fruit hawker’s cry of 'Naranjas China dulce' (sweet Chinese oranges) is part of the Cuban oral tradition. Nearly all the fruit we ate, however, was less than good. How can guavas (guayaba), mangos, soursop (guanábana), and papaya (called fruta bomba because 'papaya' has become slang for female anatomy) from a tropical clime taste so unsatisfying--is it a lack of proper care or lack of good fertilizer?

There are two types of Chinese gunip trees now common in Cuba, Oleaginous trees like the Chinese Oil Tree, used in industries, and the Lauraceous species like the Chinese Cinnamon tree which is ornamental, aromatic, and medicinal. Also popular are delicate blue Chinese violets, known as Pensamiento Chino or Chinese thought, the traditional Chinese minimalist symbol of meditation and celestial movement.

Information about the history of Chinese in Cuba is not readily available. For example, the Lonely Planet guidebook to Cuba cites nothing Chinese in its index or map, although it does contain some tidbits corroborating the extensive data gleaned from Chinese Presence in Cuba, a fact, map, and graph-laden brochure prepared by Jesus Guanche Perez. The film: 'Ancestors in the Americas: Coolies, Sailors, Settlers,' a film by Loni Ding, and a small green book Los Chinos en Cuba provide more information, as does Mis Imagenes by Mercedes Crespo Villate. This Cuban Chinese lady writes about the Chinese presence in Cuba, her motivations, and the reasons for Chinese immigration. She discusses Cuban reactions to the pobre culis or poor coolies. The book has information on the Cuban War of Independence from Spain, including lists of Chinese participants, as well as copies of documents, photographs, a bibliography, and it has information about Chinese culture in general.

In his informative brochure, Dr. Perez asks: “What are the reasons why we Cuban people assume this millenary heritage as a patrimony for ourselves” and then answers his own question by talking about China’s 'five virtues' of: Kindness, honesty, decorousness, wisdom, and faithfulness. Perhaps things Chinese quickly intimated themselves into Cuban civilization because both peoples share these universal values of human duty.

Cuba, a nation of mixed ancestry, has developed a 'native' cuisine flavored with foods imported from China, Africa, and places in the Caribbean. Africans brought their traditional starch known as fufu. It is made from plantains. In the 19th century, French coffee planters from Haiti brought Congri Orientale with them, a dish of rice cooked with red kidney beans. In Cuba’s vast Oriente region, black beans are substituted for the red kidneys, and the dish is famously renamed Moros y Christianos, a common dish on every Cuban table, every day, and a distant reminder of their colonists.

The two colors in this typical Cuban platter reference the famous war between the White Christian Spaniards and the Black Moors and can be compared to the racial mix of Cuba itself. History and politics in cuisine? We’re definitely in Cuba now. Today, Havana’s Chinatown is concentrated in an area just west of Cuba’s Capitolio Nacional, which is based on the same architectural plans as the U.S. capitol, except larger and grander. The easiest way to find Chinatown is to start at the famous Malecon, the broad ocean-side boulevard that is the last bit of land between Havana and the United States. Turn south at the intersection of Malecon and Avenida Italia, often called by its older name, Avenida Galiano. Walk about ten blocks until you pass a gated park with tall columns painted with Chinese characters and the Spanish words: Barrio China--Playa las Columnas.

The park’s white columns carry inscriptions such as: Lucky, Happiness, Shi Bo Ping Yan (Peace for You), and Sun Yi Shing Long (May Business Prosper Well). On a sunny Saturday in September the gated park was loaded with Cubans whiling away the afternoon around café tables. There was a birthday party where dozens of swankily dressed celebrants danced elegantly to a sixteen-piece son band that played for hours without a break. There is one bottle of soy, and one menu, with a brief history of Chinese in Cuba, shared among some one hundred customers, most of whom were drinking beer, huffing cigars, and snacking on scoops of pitiful fried rice on paper plates or slices of ham flanked by slices of a pickle on the same plates. The summer Havana atmosphere was thick with the feel of a 1953 Buick four-hole Special.

Barrio China de la Habana, alternately called Miramar, Cayo Hueso, and Chinatown, which first began as a neighborhood with residences and trade, then hostelries, and finally restaurants plying international customers, a huge portico inexplicably incised 'Barri Hino' instead of 'Barrio Chino' on Amistad Avenue was the mark of the Western edge of the twelve-square mile Chinese barrio squared in by San Miguel, Estrella and Belascoain.

As far as tourists know, however, Chinatown’s principal, and shortest, street is a few blocks east. Delineated by a small gate and garish red lanterns Calle Cuchillo, angles off of Italia and Zanja, surrounded by San Nicolas, Rayo, and Dragones. Standing out from the rest of Havana like a bright red persimmon amid dusty potatoes, Calle Cuchillo is a true kitsch extravaganza of Chinese dragons, lanterns and silks. In keeping with the Oriental atmosphere, most of Havana’s pet bird merchants operate in Chinatown. On payday, the small shops are flooded with Cubans buying imported umbrellas, hair supplies, toys and other inexpensive plastic items made in China. Daytime, there is a small food market in a curved alley south of there, but even though it’s Chinatown, the offerings are indistinguishable from those at other Cuban markets. On Saturday nights at eight in the evening, one of the associations hosts a Lion Dance, intended more to draw customers than scare away evil spirits.

Here are ten restaurants on the short and narrow artery called Cuchillo, each with its own tout, usually a Cuban in Chinese costume enticing passersby with the basic menu of Chinese food the world over: soup, egg roll, fried rice, and chop suey. There are plenty of traditional Cuban snacks available through tiny windows in and around Chinatown, just like the New York’s Canal Street where hot dog carts circle around the rice and noodle shops to cater to those who are in Chinatown but can not stomach Chinese food.

We learn more about Cuban Chinese culture, and visit the Casa de Arte y Tradicion China at Calle Salucci 313, between Gervasio and Escobar. This big, largely open-air building serves as the center for many Chinese traditional art forms and also is home to the Grupo Promotor Barrio China de la Havana, a kind of Chamber of Commerce for Cuban Chinese. They can direct you to any and all of the current activities in Cuba’s Chinese community and provide excellent maps and brochures highlighting places like Cementerio Chino de la Habana, a very large Chinese-only cemetery in the heart of Havana.

Currently, there are thirteen Chinese associations in Havana, the principal one being Chung Wah. Other large ones are Say Jo Jon Sociedad Wushu Kungfu and Chueng Shan Society. The Long Sai Li Society, which was founded in 1909 for instruction and recreation and is still housed in a restaurant. It is upstairs and hiding behind intricately etched glass doors. There is also a Chinese language newspaper, the Kwong Wah Po Diario Popular.

Lung Sai Li’s Chinese doorman said he had a Cuban mom, a Cantonese dad, and a Spanish grandma. His family’s favorite dish is whole fish steamed with ginger and scallion. Cuban locals invariably say that soups are their favorite Chinese offerings, with Chicken Chop Suey a close second. Fried Rice with black beans and sliced cabbage and chunks of yucca comes in cajitas (hand-cut grey cardboard takeout boxes). These common takeout snacks can be upgraded to a full meal with a fried pork chop and/or greasy gravy made from bits of fried pork. I thought it was Chinese food, since it was being purveyed in Chinatown, but later learned it was the Cuban staple, Moros y Cristianos, which natives know to be best in and around Cuchillo. The black beans are different than the black Chinese fermented soybean, but the two cuisines do share an affinity for hearty beans, white rice, onions, garlic, and other staples that facilitate culinary fusion. Its apparently a solid foundation for the many Cuban-owned Spanish-Chinese restaurants in New York, Miami, and elsewhere.

Intent on tasting standard Chinese Cuban fare, we headed to the Sociedead Regionalista, Chung Shan’s Los Dos Dragones Restaurante y Bar con Comida China Original which is the Chung Shan Regional Society’s Two Dragons Restaurant and Bar with Original Chinese Food. It was upstairs on Calle Dragones no 311 between Rayo and San Nicolas Streets. The grand dining room had seen more glorious days. President Castro had eaten here in mid-century, and there is a prominently displayed photograph of Fidel and compatriots happily chopsticking an authentic looking Chinese spread, complete with Coca Cola.

Two Dragon’s open kitchen was full of a variety of big cast iron pots and pans but there was only a single wok for use by the three Cuban and two Chinese chefs. Every Cuban diner seemed to be eating soup and fried wontons. We worked our waiter hard until he finally relented and allowed us to order a plate of fairly decent bok choy, instead of chop suey vegetables. Tip Pan Chicken turned out to be quite tasty. A giant, flattened, boneless chicken steak, incorporating both breast and thigh was battered and just barely cooked through. To accommodate the steak-loving Cuban palate, the Golden Fried Fillet was kept whole, rather than chopped as is the Chinese tradition. Mixed Ingredient Fried Rice was drier than it looked and overburdened with handfuls of smoked meats, sickly bean sprouts and scallions. Lacking any hint of the flavor of rice it was, to be fair, sustenance.

Costillitas Ahumadas Estilo Oriental or smoked Oriental-style spare ribs were overdone, their smokiness seemed to derive more from repeated re-heatings than from intentional flavoring. The wontons in the soup were the tastiest thing on the table. These delicate noodle packets bore the telltale marks of hand-rolling, but the broth was thin and the other ingredients proved inconsequential. All told, a meal for four cost twenty-one dollars U.S. with the bok choy plate being surprisingly more expensive than the big chicken dish. Both salt and soy are on the tables, as are Italian toothpicks (carezzadente) in a container featuring an image of a Japanese samurai swordsman.

After the sub-par meal, we headed for one of the last macho fortresses, the Partagas Cigar Factory’s private smoking room, where we made the acquaintance of Orlando Quiroga, a gentlemanly septuagenarian who had just published a book, The Art and Mysticism of Habanos (in Cuba, Cuban cigars are called Habanos). While enjoying a Montecristo Number 4, a perfect afternoon cigar, Mr. Quiroga recalled Chinese influences on his life in Cuba. He spoke about the concepts of Yin and Yang and pointed out the best cigar roller in Cuba who is nicknamed Chinita, (little Chinese girl) even though she is a grown and a rather large Filipina woman.

Mr. Quiroga recalled the day when thousands of Chinese flooded the streets of Havana to celebrate Chiang Kai Shek’s victory. He believes that fried rice is not originally Chinese, and knew about the taste differences between white, yellow, and brown-colored fried rice. Quiroga recalled going to see exotic foreign films in the 1950s at the Chinatown theater called Shanghai, which devolved into a pornographic theater before it closed after the Revolution. There was also a Chinese-only movie theater on Zanja Street. There used to be two traditional Chinese herbal medicine shops, one in Chinatown and the other in the Old Havana neighborhood, catering to non-Chinese clientele. Mr. Quiroga discussed the effectiveness of the Chinese metal balls used to relieve stress, the functional qualities of Tiger Balm salve, and said that Cuban hospitals, which offer some of the world’s finest doctors at bargain prices, still use some Chinese methods. He noted how much Cubans love Chinese clothing, antiques, and knick-knacks, as well as ice cream and other Chinese foods. A true epicure, Quiroga’s favorite Chinese dishes are whole fish, and duck in orange sauce. I wish I had asked Quiroga if he’d ever seen Chinese food outside the Barrio, which we did not. Also wonder what he knows about one of the world’s prettiest and fanciest restaurants, Havana’s Café del Oriente. Though they do not serve any thoroughly Chinese foods, this el sittio del gourmet or 'place for gourmets' is worth a visit for the décor alone. The classy and pricey antique wood and stained-glass establishment is located in La Habana Viejo at Oficios 112, at the corner of Amargura, (cafedeloriente@ip.etecsa.cu).

Eschew the Westernized offerings at homogenous Chinatown dives like El Pacifico, La Muralla, and Tong Po Lau, a bodeguita or small food shop which specializes in Comida China Sabor y Magia or 'Chinese food, flavor and magic' and features the Masonic logo on its business card. Instead, head for Havana’s only Chinese restaurant with over one hundred dishes. Called Tien Tan, it is on Cuchillo no 17, between Zanja and san Nicolas, and is open 11 to 11 daily (taoqi@ip.etecsa.cu). On the walk through the kitchen to the toilet, the one Chinese chef among nine kitchen workers did not respond to Ni Hao Ma the classic 'Hi, how are you' in Chinese. Even though it is the best of the Barrio, Tien Tan seems typically Cuban in its sullen resolve not to live up to its full potential.

In keeping with the public’s wish to be 'transported' to exotic Asia, Tien Tan is full of tacky Chinese décor mixed with photos of local VIPS. Sandalwood incense is sold and the small pass through window from the kitchen to the dining room plays stereotypical 'ching chong' Chinese music until the orders are picked up. Chefs on break eat fresh spinach and rice with chopsticks while most of the patrons are cradling soup with Chinese porcelain spoons and stabbing at fried wontons with forks.

Easily the most authentic Chinese restaurant in Havana, we plunged into Tien Tan’s fresh spinach which, while slightly immature, was earthy and perfectly cooked with fresh garlic. The rice tasted like it had been reheated a second time but the Seafood Meat Soup had broad flavor developed from long cooking. The multi-layered soup was authentic and complex, but unfortunately the ingredients had been overcooked to achieve the heady broth. A plate of Chinese ravioli was homemade, their perfect skin much better than their lifeless filling. Both the Wonton Soup and the Special Chinese Soups (which appear to be the same except the Special soup has egg and black mushroom) were meals in a bowl. The big soups harbored all the flavors of wonton, just without the wrapper. Pig’s kidney with green onion and hot pepper was tasty but very salty. Fried Noodles with Fish were greasy and plain. A mound of Fried Rice with Meat and Scallions was the same dry starch that has somehow insinuated itself into every Cuban Chinese restaurant.

On a second visit, a Chinese chef from Shanghai helped us order. He suggested a thick and fine hot and sour soup, spicy shrimp, and a plate of mixed Chinese vegetables. Loads of small shrimps fought for space with scallions, red and green peppers and decoratively cut carrots and turnip. The dish was very spicy with la chew jow (Chinese hot pepper oil) but suffered from a distinct lack of ginger flavor. The mixed vegetable dish was equally middle-of-the-road, with overcooked bok choy, string beans, bean sprouts, and tasty little wads of spinach. The waitress, typically Cuban in that she was open to discussing her ancestry with strangers, said her mother’s father was from Guangdong; her father’s mother was half-Spanish and half-Japanese but Cuban by birth. So she happily described herself as having a Japanese head, a Chinese body and a Cuban heart.

The menu from Tien Tan, The Temple of Heaven, Restaurant, has a photo of a group of Chinese-Cubans sitting in front of the restaurant, and claims to be "a genuine restaurant of national flavor. There are more than one hundred different dishes cooked the Chinese way with Chinese seasonings. The special dishes are more delicious cooking by Chinese cookers. Please choose and taste. Wish you are satisfied by our service.” The Chinese, Spanish and English menu poetically translate the Spanish word for appetizer, apertivos as 'Whet the appetite.' All of the platos familiars category, or their 'economic dishes,' are soups. The traditional dairy-free Chinese Congee is mislabeled Cremas Chinas in Spanish but called 'Chinese Thick Soup' in English. The most interesting desert is a Canoa China or 'Chinese Canoe' and consists of an oval-shaped flan filled with ice cream and fruits. The bar features a Mai Tai like drink, 'Coctel Tien Tan' as well as imported Qing Dao and local Tinimes beer. Chop sticks are available, but only on request, and there is a charge for rice and tea.

Tien Tan must be Cuba’s only Chinese location listing specialty items such as frog’s legs, fish balls, and lamb. The most interesting category on the menu, which consists mainly of Cantonese and Shanghai dishes with a few royal Beijing options, is the Solo Reservar column of foods available only by 'subscription,' meaning they must be ordered three days in advance. These offerings include Fried Chicken Integrity with Eight Eatables (treasures); Stewed Meat with red color and sweet; Stewed Pigs--their uppermost part of leg with soy sauce; Sauteed Dofu Chilli Sauce or Sea-foods or Meat and Black Mushroom; Savoury and Crispy Duck; Integrity Duck Soup with orange skin and soy sauce; Stewed Red Duck with sweet sauce special; and Stewed Integrity Duck with Eight Eatables.

On December 7, 2001 The New York Times reported delivery of the first of several planned shipments of goods from the nited States to be purchased by Cuba since embargo was imposed nearly forty years ago. The Cuban government paid thirty million dollars for meat and grain, including fifty-five million pounds of corn, in a purchase made possible by a 2000 Congressional legislation exempting food and medicine from the still-active 1963 trade embargo. John Kavulich II, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, feels this was more of a political than economic purchase, as Cuba could have gotten the same goods for less money and with enhanced delivery from other countries. Since 1963, President Fidel Castro had always insisted that Cuba would not buy 'even a grain of rice' under the stringent terms of the embargo. His country has suffered greatly, blaming the U.S. for shortages in food, milk and medicine. Cuban officials insist that this recent purchase was a one-time emergency measure necessary after this October’s devastating Hurricane Michele destroyed crops and housing. U.S. officials warn agricultural companies that Cuba, which cannot place its famous cigars and rums in the Fifty States, does not have the cash for continued purchases, and feel that the purchase is a sign of Cuba’s severely withered economy. Above all, and contrary to President Bush’s tough stance, Cuba wants the embargo to end.

After the revolution, most upper class Chinese left Cuba for the United States and elsewhere, leaving behind lesser educated Chinese who may be kind and good but do not have modern education or business acumen. Time has marched on, but most things cultural remain mired in pre-1959 torpor. There is no contemporary exchange with China, so Chinese nationals in Cuba are ignorant of China’s current status, and Mainland Chinese thinking is foreign to them. Still, the Cubans have muy respeto los Chineses or much respect for the Chinese. In America, even rich Chinese are somehow considered second-class citizens and poor Chinese are relegated to third or fourth class, but in Cuba even the poor Chinese are considered first class citizens. The utter lack of racism and the ability to talk openly about skin color and race, are two of Cuba’s most endearing characteristics.

Newcomers to New York are incredulous when they hear of Chinese Cuban restaurants, thinking it an improbable combination. No Cuban, however, would have such qualms about two kinds of black beans on one menu. It was only after visiting Cuba that this New Yorker realized that Broadway Cuban-Chinese haunts like La Victoria China were not named after a Chinese gal called Victoria, but rather named in honor of Fidel’s victorious revolution.

There used to be a restaurant on Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, the world’s most diverse neighborhood, called La Isla (The Island). They served Chinese, Polynesian, Spanish, Dominican, and other national dishes under one roof. I always thought their name referred to the islands from which their various cuisines originated. After visiting Havana, however, it became clear that all of these cuisines had long ago begun to rub shoulders in one of the world’s most diverse countries, Cuba, known to its natives as, quite simply, La Isla.

In a country with next to no economy, thousands of locals line up for inexpensive treats on Sunday nights in an entire park devoted to selling ice cream. Doctors and teachers are the highest paid citizens, earning no more than twenty or thirty US dollars per month. Socialized education and medicine is first rate in Cuba, but most people will never have enough money to visit other parts of the world. Surely, all Cubans have heard about Chinese food, but most have never experienced its taste. Pilo, an affable and highly motivated high school English teacher from San Diego de Los Banos, a village of three thousand known for medicinal baths and tobacco, summed it up best when he said, with great wonderment in his voice, “I never had the pleasure of eating in a Chinese restaurant. I want to but I cannot. I hear they have this amazing thing called Fried Rice.”

Now that you have read this article, perhaps Flavor and Fortune has enticed you to head for Havana. There could be no better time than May 30th through June 3, 2002, for the Festival Des Chinos De Ultramar, known in English as 'The Fifth Festival Chinese Over The Seas.' Registration is not without its costs. Participants need to shell out US$120.00, their companions pay only US$80:00. This includes: free access to all events, welcome cocktail, lunches, receptions and closing, presentation of Chinese arts and traditions, sight seeing around historical, cultural and amusing places, and free access to the Fair. If anyone does go, Flavor and Fortune wants to hear about your experiences there; I do, too.
Harley Spiller travels a lot, collects menus on every one of his journeys, and writes regularly for Flavor and Fortune. For this article, he sends thanks to Ken Takakura, Orlando Quiroga, Yumiko Ota, Tzu Chi Yeh, Carmen Eng Asuay, Guicho y Elizabeth, and the kind staff at Tien Tan.

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