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Winrock International

Cuba’s tasty transformation: los paladares

By Bikash Pandey

AR Delegation Outside La Guarida
AR Delegation Outside La Guarida

HAVANA (September 28, 2015) — The word of the day is paladares. These popular eating places used to be, literally, in peoples’ homes when they were first legalized starting in the early 1990s, as part of Cuba’s reluctant opening up in response to the economic crisis post-USSR. As an alternative to government restaurants, they continue to represent the overall pace of change the Cuban economy has been going through in the past 20 years. There used to be limits on their size, initially, with the number of seats limited to just five and everyone working required to be family members. The paladares are one of the visible beneficiaries of the changes which have accelerated after Raul Castro’s succession. Although some continue to be run out of homes, others have become much more sophisticated, even offering both Cuban and international menus.

The Arkansas Trade Mission to Cuba, which Winrock is part of, went to La Guarida, one of the best known paladares in Havana, for dinner our first night. La Guarida is in Centro Habana on the top floor of a former mansion. The building itself is crumbling and Centro Habana has narrow streets that our buses had a challenge navigating. The building was nonetheless impressive starting with huge carved wooden doors, which no longer closed. The four flights of steps, challenging to some in the delegation, had beautiful marble statues on the turn of the banisters, but with their heads broken off. The food was lovely with several starters including watermelon gazpacho, marlin tacos, and a tasty eggplant dish. I picked mahi mahi for my main order, which had a wonderful lemony flavor.

“La Guarida” is one of the best known paladares in Havana, Cuba
Photo Courtesy: kudomomo (image license)

Meetings start this morning with the North American Division of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, is scheduled to speak and a memorandum of understanding is to be signed between the World Trade Center Arkansas and the Cuban Chamber of Commerce, following presentations from the Cuban and Arkansas sides. Later this week, Governor Hutchinson will break new ground as the first U.S. Governor to pass through the doors of the newly reopened U.S. Embassy in Havana. We are also looking forward to the reception this evening at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence.

Editor’s note: Pandey, along with Winrock President Rodney Ferguson and Volunteer Technical Assistance Director DeAnn McGrew, is in Cuba this week as part of Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson’s trade mission to the Caribbean country. Winrock staff and volunteers traveled to Cuba in March, as part of the first ever Winrock-sponsored volunteer exchange there. Find additional interesting facts about paladares here.