Baracoa, known for its seafood, coconut, banana and cacao, stands out amongst Cuba’s generally plain cuisine.
Rocío and I enjoyed breakfasts and multiple dinners prepared by our hosts on our December 2016 stay. Casa Fernando prepared good food despite the limited ingredient availability.
For dinner we had choices of chicken, fish or prawns. This was usually preceded by soup and accompanied by salad and rice, bread or chips.
The highlight of our Casa Fernando meals, indeed, a highlight of Cuba, was the hot chocolate (chorote) served at breakfast. The rich and smooth drink took substantial preparation and required ordering the previous evening.
The Baracoa region produces almost all of Cuba’s cacao and has the country’s only chocolate factory.
Interestingly, the vessel Casa Fernando used to served to cacao was a teapot made in DPRK (North Korea).
Hurricane Matthew devastated the area two months prior to our visit, destroying cacao and other crops. At the Finca Duaba farm few cacao fruit remained on the trees with many on the ground perished.
From a man outside Baracoa we bought two pure cacao balls for only 1 CUC (US$1). The balls added a lovely flavour to our drinks and food and lasted 1 and a half months.
Despite the devastated cacao harvest, Baracoa’s chocolate factory still operated, pumping out a nice aroma. They either previously stockpiled cacao or were importing chocolate’s key ingredient.
On 1 April 1963 then Industry Minister Che Guevara inaugurated the chocolate factory. As a revolutionary hero, the factory’s main sign displays his trademark face.
A second chocolate factory sign quotes Che: ‘You do not live celebrating victories but overcoming defeats’ (No se vive celebrando victorias sino superando derrotas).
In the city we negotiated and bought chocolates from a street seller. Ingeniously, the bars were wrapped in medicine foil.
Other Baracoa Sweets
A Baracoa speciality is cucurucho, wrapped in palm leaves and made from dried coconut, sugar and flavours. I found cucurucho tasty in moderation but too filling and sweet to consume otherwise.
Another sweet consisted primarily of sugar and nuts (probably from a palm) and was even sweeter than cucurucho.
Local Versus Foreign Targeted Food
Businesses aimed at Cubans are usually incredibly cheap although the quality usually reflects the price. In Baracoa we enjoyed half decent ice cream and hot chocolate at a local café. My notes say it cost only 0.60 CUP (US$0.024).
At a different café we received our 2 CUP ($US0.08) juices in cut off Corona bottles! I can imagine a hip café charging 100 times more for drinks in such glasses.
Restaurants aimed at foreigners in Cuba are far more expensive and usually have better food although it still varies in quality. Finca la Esperenza has a wonderful setting next to the River Toa and we ate lunch there one day. My ‘river prawn’ was good although Rocío disliked her fish and thought it should be much better given the price (several CUC/USD per main course). Notable at our meal was the German butter and US Tabasco sauce.
As mentioned, Hurricane Matthew destroyed Baracoa’s crops. During our visit I only saw fresh produce for sale once. Our accommodation and restaurants catering for foreigners bought their fruit and vegetables from neighbouring regions
While I was sick with a fever, Rocío scoured the city for fresh produce for a healthy and satisfying meal accompanied by sea views.
I would love to return to Baracoa once crops have fully recovered especially during the northern summer when the delicious small mangoes are in season.