Monday, March 3, 2008

Communist Cuba Has a Blog Devoted to Cooking

The Eskimos have exactly 32 names for snow and the Arabs must have at least as many for sand. But why there would be an official Cuban blog devoted to cooking is one of those great inscrutable mysteries of life. What do Cubans have to do with eating or eating with Cubans? Eating well, that is, not awful or offal. But, nevertheless, such a blog exists.

Seeing recipes of different prepared foods, and even reading about their preparation, creates an intimacy with food which, although it does not satisfy hunger, at least assuages the other senses except that of taste. I can only imagine this is the reason for maintaining a cooking blog in Communist Cuba. The site is filled with recipes that have not graced typical Cuban tables for decades. They are not, however, the real recipes prepared in the traditional manner for that would be well-nigh impossible if not subversive, but abbreviated interpretations of them: a flan made with two eggs and corn starch; and carne guisada prepared with 800 grams of beef (1.75 lbs) and one teaspoon of oil, as if beef were easier to acquire in Cuba than cooking oil.

The pictures accompanying the recipes do not look too appetizing to us: the wilted lettuce and greyish beef. Nevertheless, though the ingredients are reduced in quantity and quality, and the more "exotic" ones eliminated altogether, the finished product still resembles the original enough to pass for it among those who know no better until they leave. I suppose that new Cuban refugees when presented with, say, a flan made with almost an entire box of eggs, two cups of milk and that "exotic" vanilla, must feel as Cubans did in the mid 1950s when color tv was introduced in Cuba and then, like life itself, reverted to black & white after 1959.

The author of this blog calls herself "Abuela Mayra," and the unenviable task has fallen to her of replacing Nitza Villapol, the doyenne of reduced-calorie cooking long before it became the vogue it is today. She didn't start out that way. In her classic Cocina al Minuto, published in the 1950s, when Cuban caloric intake was twice what it is today and protein consumption ten times, she did not stint for anything in her recipes and even used actual American brand names. Cuban consumers then had a wider choice of food products than did Americans, for not only did Cubans have at their disposal all the brands available in any U.S. supermarket but also all the local brands that were often superior to the imported varieties.

Villapol had a cooking show before the Revolution and did indeed make the transition from color to b&w. Everything else regressed on her show as well. She was a militante and you had to be one to do what she did, that is, you had to have a "hard face" as Cubans say. Her capacity for improvisational substitution was unrivaled and will likely remain so, for it is difficult to conceive of any other circumstance than famine in a Western country to explain mayonnaise being made without oil, egg yolks or lemon juice. Nitza's "mayonnaise" sidestepped emulsification: it is actually a thin potato gruel, chilled. This was also, alternately, the substitute for creme cheese and even butter. When boniatos (sweet potatoes) disappeared she re-invented them by dousing plain potatoes with almibar (sugar syrup). I wonder what she would have done during the recent blight which saw even the humble potato eliminated from the ration card? I suppose she would have pretended that the potato never existed, or that it, like the now-mythical malanga, was a holdover from the days of "underdevelopment" which had to be eliminated in order for the Cuban diet to become more "diversified" or "sophisticated."

In the last edition of her cookbook published in Cuba before her death at 95, Nitza Villapol rewrote all her recipes to conform to the reductionism of the New Order's cuisine. This was during the "Special Period" in the 1990s when Cubans were not only hungry but dying of starvation for the first time in 100 years, that is, since Valeriano Weyler drove the campesinos from the countryside and imprisoned them in fortified cities with no access to food — the first and only time that food was used as a weapon against our people before Castro. Villapol addressed the "Special Period" with a new chapter in her book devoted to "malnutrition" before the Revolution. In the original edition of her cook book, she had chastised Cubans for eating too much beef and pork and chicken and ignoring the island's infinite variety of seafood (besides lobsters).

The new Nitza Villapol is named Mayra Gómez Fariñas. I will say this for Villapol: she adapted to real circumstances. To read her revised recipes is both sad and funny, but one can actually imagine they are used in Cuba. Mayra's more elaborate re-creations, however, belong to the world of magical realism. The latest recipes at her blog Recetas de la Abuela Mayra/Desde Su Cocina are for "Rosbif a la cubana" and "Salsa de tomate." Who, in God's name, made tomato sauce from scratch in pre-Castro Cuba? Or anywhere else in the world then or today? Of course, there is no canned anything in Castro's Cuba; everything must be made from scratch without the scratch. "Abuela Mayra's" recipe requires 20 tomatoes to make "three servings" of tomato sauce (whatever that is). Who in Cuba today has 20 tomatoes? Or vino seco (cooking wine) or pimentón (paprika)? I suppose she will provide recipes for those later on.

The "Rosbif a la cubana" requires an even greater stretch of the imagination and qualifies even as an obscenity. Before the Revolution there were 6 million cattle in Cuba, as many cattle as there were people. Under Castro that number has been reduced to 1 million (the cows, not the people). Beef has been a stranger to the ration card for decades. Cubans are instead provided with something called "masa cárnica" which consists of soy and maggots. Harvested in massive farms concealed from view, maggots provide most of the protein in the Cuban diet today. Certainly this is the "magic food" that Cuba's preeminent bioengineer had sought for so long: maggots feed upon maggots and the feeding process creates even more maggots. The maggots are the Cuban manna and the hope of a hungry world if one could only tyrannize all of mankind and force feed it the worms that will one day feed on them.

"Abuela Mayra's" recipe for Cuban Roast Beef is not only obscene (veal, she wants even!) but subversive. It is a criminal offense in Cuba, punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment, to buy or consume beef because all cattle in Cuba are state property (that is, they belong to the Castro's ranch "XXX") and if you have a steak in your possession you are either a "poacher" from the lord of manor's estate or guilty of receiving stolen property. This is why I have always asserted that there is no such thing as a "common criminal" in Cuba, not only because there is no Rule of Law, but no Rule of Reason under Castro.

Gómez is the author of La buena mesa también es cubana where she errs in putting in the present tense what belongs in the past.


Ms Calabaza said...

This is awful. I had never heard about the soy/maggot protein. How can the world press stand by and let this happen? Pathetic.

Agustin Farinas said...

A Cuban cookbook? This has got to be a joke! And what will include? Beefsteaks made from rags for cleannig the floor?
Pizass with comdoms instead of mozarella?
Chopped beef made from banana peels?
Maggots to feed people, this has got to be disgusting. How low can this regime sink before is dennounced by the international community of nations as an outlaw regime?
A Cuban cook in present day Cuba, is like a book on virginity written in a whore house in Paris!

Vana said...

The one I found the most cruel was los rollos de carne, they require ham, when was the last time el pueblo has see ham, they probably don't even know what it looks like, let alone beef, giving the population maggots this is disgusting! how low has the tyranny sunk, just knowing that will tell you that the regime does not give two farts about the people.

Anonymous said...

There are Cubans in the island whod do have cooking wine, paprika, extra virgin olive oil, and other goodies essential for Cuban cooking. They live in the beautiful houses and apartments of Vedado, Miramar, el Country, Nuevo Vedado, Reparto Kohly, etc. (all stolen from their rightful owners by the dictatorial regime) They also have plenty of dollars to shop in supermarkets fully stocked for the ruling class and assorted foreigners).


Manuel A.Tellechea said...


I would be inclined also to think that Abuela Mayra's was a blog for the nomenklatura, who have at their immediate disposal all the ingredients that ordinary Cubans would spend a lifetime trying to assemble in vain, except that her cooking blog is linked to Juventud Rebelde, which suggests a wider audience. Perhaps there are some who derive vicarious pleasure from perusing pictures and descriptions of what the elite eat. Call it "eating" by proxy.

Anonymous said...

monthly rations from the State-7lb (3.2kg) of rice per person, 20oz of beans, 5lb of sugar, one piece of chicken, a small packet of coffee, crackers, cooking oil, a box of matches, ten eggs and one bread roll a day. “Every cuban have to make money on the side.They have to, rations do not go far. “They run out within a week or so,” And this Chunga have a cooking Blog.

Anonymous said...

These remind me of my dad's "what Cubans do for beef" stories that he told us whenever we complained about fat in our steaks. One was about the 10's of kilometers he and my mom traveled by motorcycle near Camaguey, where we are from, to the location of a dead cow in a field. Apparently the beast had perished from something like mad cow's disease. They did not care that the cow had been diseased, they just wanted meat for their kids. They also knew very well that they would go to jail as poachers if caught. Once they heard the rumors about the animal, they rushed to the carcass, at night of course, and before the other families in the know could get to it first.

The mention of maggots resonates. His other favorite story was about how he and the other prisoners in the UMAP, where he spent three nice hard years doing forced labor after applying for an exit visa, would eat the maggot-infested meat of dead animals they found in the cane fields. Well, they ate whatever animal they could kill, snakes, birds, whatever, to keep from starving. He should write a cookbook about that. It is sad that all Cubans have stories like these.

Ms Calabaza said...

If there is a hell, Nitza Villapol must run a whole wing of it.

Fantomas said...

Cambiando el tema un poco

Fantomas said...

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Photos: Clinton, Obama, McCain campaign

The survey determined that a quarter of self-identified Republicans rated Mr. McCain most likable, but nearly as many — 23 percent — chose Mr. Obama as most likable. And among all adults surveyed, Mr. Obama was rated likable by more people than Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mr. McCain combined, underscoring the Illinois senator's appeal to voters across the political spectrum.

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Mr. Obama said his message and his brand of campaigning will help him compete in states traditionally hostile to Democrats, and the poll numbers suggest an opening for that approach.

By contrast, likability has never been Mr. McCain's strong suit — even long-shot Republican candidate Mike Huckabee was rated more likable in the poll, both among all adults and Republicans specifically. Mr. McCain instead is betting on his national-security credentials, and there the survey shows him topping both Democrats combined.

Mr. McCain led with 39 percent to Mr. Obama's 17 percent and Mrs. Clinton's 19 percent when those surveyed were asked who "will be the toughest on matters of national security." Even among self-identified Democrats, Mr. McCain fared decently with one in five rating him toughest.

Mr. McCain is well-aware of his advantage on that score, accusing Mr. Obama last week of misreading the terrorist threat in Iraq.

Agustin Farinas said...

Fantomas continues to plug political ads for Barack Obama on this blog. Not one day goes by that he does not come here to comment on the virtues of Obama as the next President. One has to wonder what poitical ax he has to gring by doing this service. Whose interest is he serving by this blatant politicizing in favor of Obama. All the time he cliams he is a Republican at heart. This must be the joke of the blogsphere. A guy who calls himself a Reublican but yet is constantly doing politicking for Barack Hussein Obama. I bet he does not go to Babalu and do the same politicking for Obama. He knows very well where he can come and spouse his politics. They will kick his ass out of there in a flash. But wait, these are his former friends of BUCL. How come he does not go there and do his dirty work for Obama? One is left wondering, why?

nonee moose said...

No chance there could be a hint of subversion in there somewhere?

Just askin'...

Anonymous said...

THis is total lies
i've eaten beef with normal common cuban families in habana all of the time!!

SURE, RATION CARDS DON'T GET IT, BUT MOST CUBANS ARE IN BLACK MAREKT.. YOU ACT LIKE THEY ARE APES. they are not and live quite normally , besides that lack of political freedom, for third world nation

Anonymous said...


What type of beef you ate in cuba? hahahaha.

Only the elite shop in supermarkets and Tourist.The Cuban people have to settle for scraps.

Anonymous said...

What the hell is she cooking "Que coño es eso lo que esta cocinando?"

I'm freaken Cuban-American and almost every single crap posted there I HAVE NEVER EATEN anythin prepared the way shown in that blog!