Tag Archives: cuba

World Cooking – Cuba

List Item: Cook something from every countryCountry: Cuba
Progress: 58/193

I think that the last time that I cooked for a country that had such a wealth of recipe choices would have to be Israel nearly two months ago. Since then I have fit in a lot of countries, which has allowed me to cross off pick another food nation that (according to my crude designation) is pretty major. It would also appear that my picking Cuba I have summoned their weather since I am sat here enduring the warmest August Bank Holiday on record.

The food of Cuba is unlike any of the other Caribbean nations that I have done so far; mainly because of its history of colonisation by the Spanish. This means that the food still has the Afro-Caribbean influences of the neighbouring island nations, but that is met with a similarly sizeable influence of Spanish food. This means that the cuisine shares some dishes with the Central American mainland whilst using seafood from the surrounding ocean and the plants that can be found in such a large tropical island.

One day, when I am thinner and better able to deal with the humidity, I really hope to be able to see Havana and other parts of the island. It’s honestly the only Caribbean island that I am keen to visit because of the history and because of the pictures that I have seen of the old quarter of Havana. Until then, I need to learn more and cook more Cuban food as I have clearly missed some interesting dishes out when having to make this brief selection.

Main: Médianoche

When I think of Cuban food, the first thing that comes to mind is the Cuban Sandwich or Cubano. Pretty much every Miami-based film or TV show I have seen features some form of Cubano. Rather than make a Cubano myself, I opted to make another Cuban sandwich that has the same fillings as the Cubano, but uses a different bread. So, this is how I ended up making médianoches – a sandwich whose name comes from being served in the middle of the night.

Following the recipe from Kitchn, these médianoches contain mustard, pickles, Swiss cheese, ham and a spiced roast pork. The bread is a sweet enriched bread and, for this sandwich, I picked up some challah as everyone online says it’s a perfect substitute. Perfect might just be the word that I would use to describe this sandwich.

As much as I loved the Uruguayan chevito sandwich, I think that the title of best sandwich on this cooking quest might just belong to the médianoches. There are fewer ingredients, which means that nothing gets lost . Instead everything plays a very specific role and balances the other out. The real revelation, at least for me, being the use of challah to make a sandwich like this one. I wish I could have another one now, but it’s super late at night and I already finished off the leftovers from dessert.

Dessert: Flan de Leche

Flan de leche (or what we would call a creme caramel in the UK) is one of those desserts that has a lot of regional variations through the Spanish-speaking nations of Latin America. I thought about doing this for Cuba because, thanks to my diet, I don’t make desserts too often and Cuba is one of those nations that I wanted to give special attention to. So, I found a recipe by The Hungry Traveller that would give me a Cuban style flan de leche and it did not disappoint.

Now, some recipes are more eventful than others, and I think my making this dessert is one of the more eventful one for a while. Firstly, I had to make do with a springform tin as no one sold a regular tin that was of the correct width and depth. This meant, as you can imagine, there was some leakage of delicious caramel along the way – including a torrent of it down my shirt as I flipped the sucker over. Also, the time taken for the custard to cook took double the length as stated by the recipe. This might be because my dish was an inch narrower than the instructions and, as you are steaming egg custard, the lossof surface area can have massive time consequences.

Thankfully, as you can see from the picture, the recipe was a resounding success. The addition of condensed milk to a traditional creme caramel style recipe just kicks things unp a notch. Truly, not having an appetite for dinner due to the heat worked out as I could have a second serving of this instead of getting hot in the kitchen.

Drink: (Virgin) Mojitos

I got so into the spirit of making Cuban food that I wanted to extend them them to include mojitos (as they originate from Cuba) and a background of Cuban music. Since I am basically teetotal, I decided to get an old recipe of mine out of retirement and make some Virgin mojitos  with apple juice and lemonade in the place of rum and soda water. Honestly, given the heat and lack of breeze, these drinks were the perfect accompaniment.

Given that it’s the August Bank Holiday weekend, I thought it would be good to get two countries crossed off . So, next time on this challenge, I will be making some food from Jordan. The last time I made Levantine food (a Lebanese feast for my husband’s birthday) the flat next door got a burst water main and we were without water for nearly a week. Hopefully that won’t happen again.

Around The World In 100 Films – Senegal & Cuba

So continueth the dictated film reviews! Damn these wrists!

List Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 42/100

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
moolaadeTitle: Moolaadé
Director: Ousmane Sembène
Year: 2004
Country: Senegal

For this pair of films I figured it was high time I tried to put more countries on the map. It means that, for the first film, I’m having to take a risk on a later film that may be removed from the next edition of the list. Then again, seeing how this list is meant to embody the great variety of cinema this may end up being a fairly safe bet. There are very few African films on the 1001 list. The reason behind this is fairly obvious: compared to the rest the world Africa does not have such a strong canon of cinema as they tend to have bigger fish to fry.

There are of course some exceptions, and I’m not talking about Nollywood which are generally seen as low quality despite a massive output. Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene has made many acclaimed films and Moolaadé is the only one of his oeuvre to make it on the list. I am surprised that his equally acclaimed film Xala did not made the cut, but I venture that this is a far more important film.

Moolaadé is set in an isolated African village. The filming took place in Burkina Faso, but as far as I’m aware it is never mentioned where this town actually is. They have chosen to be isolated for they fear the encroach of the modern world on their traditions. This is a village that still believe the story of a king being turned into an anthill after going against moolaadé (a type of magical protection) even though they converted to Islam many generations ago. This is also a village that still engages in ritualistic female genital mutilation in the name of Allah (a practice that Islam has actually denounced) and this is where the story begins.

Whilst the film is didactic in tone there’s so much life and colour that this does not feel like an exploitative Nanook of the North style film. These are real people. Okay fine they are actors playing a role, I wager a significant number of the women involved have been through this act of barbarism. I know it is easy for someone in the west to call it an act of barbarism, but what else is there to call it? If even their own religion has a ban on it then why does it go ahead?

This is the point of the film. It takes on the ideas of both equality and outside influence. When the girls come to Collé for protection they do so out of their own choice. The two girls of the six that do not go to Collé end up drowning themselves out of fear of the “purification”. It’s so easy for the men of the village, who do not have to perform the ceremony themselves, to blame Collé and outside influences (aka the radio). Despite demanding that this ceremony goes ahead they have no part in it instead they rely on bullying tactics and the few medicine women on their side to keep this tradition going. Never mind that these men have lost daughters to this ceremony (as it kills 15 per cent of women and those that survive may be in constant pain for the rest of their lives), this doesn’t seem to factor in as going against tradition will cause them to lose face.

I did not have high hopes going into this movie despite the fact that my hero Roger Ebert listed this as one of his Great Movies. It just felt like one of those films that have all the subtlety of a drunk rhino and how wrong was I. This movie is important. We in the west cannot make this film because it looks like us imposing our view of the world onto others. What Ousmane Sembene has done is to give us the window where we can view the land he grew up in. I just hope that the brave women, the mercenary and the son of the chieftain are indicative of a rising swell of opinion and action in these areas. No girl should ever have to deal with this. And I think every man should be made to confront what they’re doing should they champion this act.

Title: Memories of Underdevelopment (Memorias del Subdesarrollo)
Director: Tomás Gutiérrez Alea
Year: 1968
Country: Cuba

Memories of Underdevelopment is arguably the most critically acclaimed film to come out of Cuba… I did not get it. Now, it is not that I don’t appreciate the film that breaks with general structure. In fact watching films that do things in different ways is the reason that completing the 1001 book is on my bucket list.

The idea is very promising. You have a film which tells the story with a mixture of documentary film and drama. I don’t know if it’s me, but this is an idea I feel a lot of recently (i.e. Close-Up) so I know this can be done very well. With the setting of this film being Cuba during its turbulent time in the 1960s there should have really been interesting. Now there are interesting parts where he looks a bit more into the history and goes along the moor documentary road. It’s when the main character starts thinking about women he slept with the other things of lesser consequence that I start to phase out.

One thing to note is how the storytelling happens. It is all fairly train of thought so as to mimic memory retrieval. Think Memento but instead of going backwards it’s a bit more scattershot. Since this is how humans work it’s an interesting way to present the narrative threads. However, in this instance it just did not work for me.

The afterthoughts I have been confronted with is the knowledge that I know next to nothing about Cuba other than what I learnt about Cold War in GCSE history. Maybe I need to find an actual documentary to learn more as that would be interesting.

Progress: 502/1007