5 Must Eats In Baracoa, The Food and Chocolate Capital of Cuba

Personal Photo, La Farola en route to Baracoa

Personal Photo, La Farola en route to Baracoa

Baracoa, the food and chocolate capital of Cuba was only accessible by sea, until ~50 years ago. It is still very remote, gorgeous and now accessible by land via a two lane road called La Farola which winds through the Sierra de Purial mountains (Fidel Castro commissioned this road in 1965 to thank Baracoenses for their support during the revolution).

Andrés has family in Habana and Santiago de Cuba so we often visit the island (legally with family visas). On one of our recent trips, we traveled in a bus to Baracoa after visiting Santiago. My father-in-law, Luís, has a background in anthropology and really wanted to visit this historic city to see if the Cruz de la Parra** still existed. I was curious about the famous cuisine. It was a win win.

(The Not So Great) Food in Cuba

Due to the inhumane and ineffective US embargo, food infrastructure within Cuba is dismal. From the west end to the east end of the island, Cuban cuisine lacks variety and it often feels like I am eating a variation of the same meal over and over and over again. Having said that, food in rural areas is fresher and tastier than what is found in Habana and other urban hubs since it is locally grown.

Photo Source:  Baracoa Bike Rental

Photo Source: Baracoa Bike Rental

So What Makes Baracoa Different? The Taíno Influence

Most history books (within and outside of Cuba) have erased indigenous Taíno Indians and their culture from the island. However, the resilient Taínos of Cuba used the mountains to hide and defend from colonizers, which is why their heritage and people are very much alive today, despite popular belief. It is because of this Taíno influence that the food in Baracoa is so distinct.

Many Cubans have heard about Baracoa, since it is the “oldest” colonized city in Cuba (Plainspeak: It’s the first spot on the island that the mofo Columbus “discovered” in 1492 and planted a cross). But even within Cuba, few have ventured there. Due to its geographical remoteness, Baracoa runs at a different pace and maintains a separate cultural identity than other parts of Cuba.

Unique Baracoan Cuisine

Baracoenses have a different palate than other Cubans. It is steeped in coconut milk and chocolate. Unfortunately, I was unable to try *everything*, but I ate a lot. Next time, I am determined to find and try tetí, a small local fish that is only found in Baracoa.

Here are 5 Must Eats That I Still Crave

** Oh, La Cruz de La Parra (The Sacred Cross of Parra) still exists in the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción in Baracoa’s main square. It is the only remaining cross (of the original 29) that still exists from Columbus’s first voyage to the colonized world in 1492. Surprisingly, I didn’t leave that church as depressed as I thought I would be. Instead, I left optimistic thanks to the Bust of Hatuey that literally stands 20 steps from the church entrance. It feels like a face-off when you stand between the two. Hatuey was a legendary Taíno cacique (chief) who was burned at the stake in 1512 by the Spaniards for refusing to convert to Christianity. Friar Bartalomé Las Casas (known for his liberation theology) recorded the horrific Spanish invasion, including Hatuey’s last words. Hatuey’s name and memory are still revered throughout Cuba - you see his namesake on beer, cigars, water, all over. Cuban students honor Hatuey and the anecdote of his last conversation is repeated in classrooms throughout Cuba.

Have you been to Baracoa? Did I Miss Anything?