Here's the market close to where we're staying considered one of the biggest and best in downtown Havana. It has two parts. One with fresh fruits and vegetables as well as meat. The other has state subsidized food staples.
The veggie section hasn't got a huge selection although there's always lots of great tropical fruit and all sorts of root vegetables - sweet potatoes, yams, yucca, malanga which are included in every main meal and called "viandas".
In the meat section there's pork - just pork. No chicken. No fish. No beef. In fact, all beef is controlled by the state and is for export only. You can face a fifteen year jail sentence if "they" catch you with beef in the freezer!
Here's the subsidized section.
Everyone has a ration book which corresponds to this list and more.
So, for the month of November, you're entitled to buy rice @ .25 - (one U.S. penny per pound) up to 5 pounds. Black beans @.80 or three U.S. cents per pound up to 10 ounces - strangely they use pounds and not kilos here - 1/2 litre of oil per month and also 10 eggs per person per month. - four U.S. cents each. You can purchase more of these items but at a higher rate. If they have it. My landlady just told me she'd spent the morning looking for sugar - and they grow it here.
There's also subsidized toothpaste, cigarettes and this - subsidized rum.
There's a chain of subsidized ice cream parlors throughout Cuba called
Putting a meal together requires ingenuity. There's a small corner shop that sells frozen chicken parts - but not always and where from - who knows. You can buy beer at another corner shop, and you feel very clever when you discover a small pastry shop that sells decent whole wheat bread. Even bottled water is a hit or miss proposition and you quickly learn that if you see it - stock up!
This is the swankiest - and only - real supermarket in the city. Most of what they have is imported from Spain. Once again, if you see it, grab it, because that Italian spaghetti or the Spanish sheep's milk blue cheese will be cleaned out by the next day. I'm still trying to figure out what that guy buying fifteen jars of pequillo peppers was going to do with them.
Here's the spice section of the supermarket - notice how many "no's" have been pasted onto the list. I've come to believe that the country's motto, "Patria o Muerte", should be changed to "No Hay".
So what do the Cubans get when they eat out?
What they do have is absolutely delicious fresh juice. You can buy a litre and a half for just over two dollars. There's guava, mango, limeade, pineapple, orange, tamarind, mandarin and watermelon - all just scrumptious.
Despite all this deprivation or maybe because of it, the Cubans have become very clever at getting around the regulations and supplementing the limited supply. My landlady at our B & B offered me some incredibly good smoked ham - not the crappy processed kind. When I asked, "Lillian, where can I buy some of that"? She told me that someone she knows who lives about two hours outside of town sent it to her. And when I inquired about buying fish she told me she knew some fishermen and she got hers from them. Even at the market, men have sidled up to me and, as if doing a drug deal, have furtively shown me a bag of frozen shrimp they've somehow gotten hold of.
So here's our contribution to this great Cuban tradition. Want some ice in your house-made mojito?