Eating Vegetarian “Like a Local” in Cuba

 
Photo by Gabriel Flores 

Photo by Gabriel Flores 

Written by Tyler Anneliese Moselle

Intrepid vegans and vegetarians: it may be tough, but here’s how to do it.

Savoring local rum, cigars, and vintage cars is surely on your checklist on your trip to Cuba. But how can you enjoy traveling like a local in the country whilst a vegetarian?

Vegetarianism is still not the easiest feat in a country known for abuela’s chicken, roasted pork, classic crusty grilled cubano sandwiches, with a side of rice, beans, and plantains.

We have a few epicurean tips for our veggie-eating friends. Please keep these three recommendations in mind, if you’re an eager traveler looking for vegetarian-friendly options on your visit to Cuba:

  1. Be sure to integrate “sin carne” and “sin jamón” into your Spanish vocabulary. An important phrase when sampling local delicacies sans meat or ham, especially since locals frequently categorize  jamonada (Spam) as a non-meat option.

  2. Embrace rice, beans, eggs, plantains, salad, and pizza. Major staples will be include traditional rice and beans, eggs and omelettes, fried plantain, salads, and, yes, pizzas.

  3. Vegans, hit the paladares*. Vegans are pretty limited when it comes to local Cuban eats that fit their dietary preferences. A paladar, or in-home restaurants, offer guests an opportunity to simply order off-menu. Most spots have rice, black beans, and root vegetables -- potato and malanga--readily available.

Photo by Gabriel Flores

Paladares

As Saveur points out, “In-home restaurants like Atelier, known as paladares, were legalized in the 1990s but limited by idiosyncratically enforced regulations: a maximum of 12 seats, no beef or lobster, only ingredients purchased at state stores, at least two “family helpers” as staff.”

“Those restaurants that survived despite the restrictions possessed a speakeasy ambiance and exclusively served Cuban food. In 2011, nationwide economic reforms loosened regulations, and in short order, paladares—some selling comparatively exotic Indian or Spanish food—outstripped state-run restaurants in both number and popularity.”

With the reopened American Embassy in Havana and tourists are changing the face of what it means to be a culinary entrepreneur in Cuba. When chefs were accustomed to only limited selections of ingredients just a few years back, now multiple options, like a new variety of fresh produce are available. Revitalized local green markets ( known as agromercados) are flourishing thanks to reorganized farming co-operatives.

Without a wholesale market, however, products can vanish from Cuba’s government-run supermarkets without any notice whatsoever.

So just as vegetarians must be resourceful when it comes to planning their trip to Cuba, chefs are equally creative when it comes to last-second menu substitutions.

 

Not Just Mojitos: What to Drink on Your Visit to Cuba

 
Photo by Gabriel Flores

Written by Tyler Anneliese Moselle

You’ve landed at Havana Jose Marti International Airport… and whether this is your first visit or your twentieth to the "Pearl Antilles", you’ll notice immediately Cuba and its culture is changing with its new influx of first-time visitors.

There’s rum at every turn, but finding your preference is essential to traveling like a local. Here are seven inspired drinks embedded in Cuba’s epicurean history:

Havana Special

Here’s a libation exclusive to Cuba: white rum, maraschino liqueur, and fresh pineapple juice served straight up with a slice of pineapple or a twist in a highball glass or sometimes a pineapple.

Photo by Stephanie Wang on our March trip

Photo by Stephanie Wang on our March trip

Cuba Libre

Okay, you’ve probably had some version of a rum and coke before, right? Well, the original was born from a toast to Cuba’s independence from Spain in 1900. ¡Por Cuba Libre!

After one of Coca-Cola’s first bottling plants outside of the U.S. closed its doors in Cuba in 1906, Cubans came up with tuKola.

Madrigal Bar Cafe is perfect for citizens of the world visiting for the first time and seasoned locals alike--both unwinding over Cuba Libres.

  • Forget the red Solo cup filled with cheap rum, Coca-Cola, and garnished with a stray Ping-Pong ball of your college days past. The original Rum and Coke has a revolutionary history, born in a celebratory toast between the soldiers of the U.S. Army Signal Corps in 1900. Captain Russell supposedly ordered a glass of rum with Coke and a wedge of lime, and celebrated the island’s independence against Spain by exclaiming ¡Por Cuba Libre! Ironically, you can’t get American cola in post-Revolution Cuba, so a Cuba Libre in the drink’s home country is made with tuKola: a different caramel-colored soft drink.

Mojitos

Perhaps the most famous—or infamous—Cuban cocktail in the world is the mojito. The present-day international tourist destination La Bodeguita del Medio was once the bar in Havana who helped make this drink a hit. It’s celebrated combination is white rum, sugar, lime juice, soda crushed ice, and fresh mint leaves.

Before coming to prominence during Prohibition, the mojito’s past is unclear. Some people suggest the drink was born as a remedy for scurvy aboard British ships—lime for Vitamin C, mint for easing digestion, and unrefined rum, aguardiente, for water purification. Other folks suggest African slaves came up with the concoction to mask the taste of cheap rum.

Photo by Kelsi Smith on our March trip

Photo by Kelsi Smith on our March trip

Rón Collins

While the Tom Collins is a refreshing American creation from 1876 by "the father of American mixology", Jerry Thomas, the Cuban rendition punches it up with white rum. Blended with sugar, lime juice, soda water, and ice makes it equal parts delicious and simple.

Presidente

During the U.S. Prohibition, this popular drink—in both the States and Cuba—was created and named after Cuban president Mario García Menocal. While you’re sure to encounter many original twists on the classic, this local drink calls for dark rum, curacao, white vermouth, and a dash of grenadine. Celebrate history with this ruby-red, lightly sweet elixir.

Canchánchara

Trinidad’s signature canchanchara features a blend of raw rum, honey, fresh squeezed lime or lemon, and water. This cocktail is served in a traditional clay pot with ice and was once considered an elixir of life for Cuban guerillas.

It’s even rumored to have been invented to help soldiers withstand the harsh realities of the Ten Years War.

Photo by Fresh Off the Grid on our March trip

Photo by Fresh Off the Grid on our March trip

Daiquiri

The daiquiri wasn’t always a boozy slush akin to a Slurpee.

In the early 20th century, American engineer Jennings Cox created the first daiquiri when improvising a solution for running out of gin for his party guests. He mixed a pitcher of light rum, lime, and sugar and dubbed it after an adjacent community.  

However, the modern daiquiri was established and perfected at Havana’s El Floridita. They replaced sugar with grapefruit juice and maraschino liqueur and threw it in a blender. Whether you’re a Hemingway fan or not, the spot known  as the” La Cuna del Daiquiri” worth a visit for a sip of his extra-strength, eponymous “Papa Doble” version.

Want a better taste of Cuba? Join us on one of our next trips coming up in October 10-17 and Nov 21-28, 2017.

 

What You Really Need to Know About Visiting Cuba (Now)

 

A note to our fans, from Natalie and Andrew

Photo by Nicholas Roberts

Photo by Nicholas Roberts

Written by Tyler Anneliese Moselle

Last week, you may have heard the news about President Trump’s new travel restrictions in Cuba. We watched the press conference with anticipation and were brokenhearted to learn that travel to Cuba will be lessened.

 We want you to know, that our trips have always been aimed at supporting local families and businesses, and will continue to do so. We pledge that we will continue to bring groups of curious, like-minded travelers to Cuba in the hopes of creating more peace and understanding.

 Since we began bringing groups to Cuba over the last two and a half years, we have witnessed the positive changes that the influx of tourism has brought firsthand. We were fortunate to be in Havana the week that President Obama visited Cuba. What we witnessed was the hope and positivity of a new future for both Cubans and Americans.

 Good, hard working people were finally able to open their own businesses and begin to vastly improve their lives.

 In 2016 alone, non-Cuban American visitors to the island soared 74 percent thanks to return of commercial flights. Cuba’s 615,000 visitors from the US last year was a record, while still a fraction of the island's 4 million visitors.

 To us, the tightening of travel and commercial ties with Cuba feels like a step backwards.

We want to let travelers better understand how the new policy will change travel going forward.

 Take a closer look at exactly what POTUS’ newly-signed, six-page directive calls for:

  1. In the regulations, travel is now restricted to people traveling with groups with OFAC licenses.
    We are fortunate enough to be one of those companies.

  2. You’ll need to know what exactly constitutes legal forms of travel to Cuba going forward.
    Should Americans want to visit Cuba for “educational purposes”, they can only do so in tour groups, just like before 2016.

    While under President Obama, U.S. travelers could travel under a dozen various license categories—from educational, relgious, journalistic, family-related visits, or even simply under a “general” license—tourism was still prohibited.  

  3. President Trump is cutting out what are known as “people-to-people trips”.
    This is sub-category of “educational purposes” allowing U.S. citizens to tailor their own trips and travel to Cuba on their own—definitely one of the most popular methods with  U.S. travelers since President Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba announced they would begin begin normalizing relations between the two countries  back in 2014.

  4. Those visiting for educational reasons will now be required to apply with the Treasury Department and visit with a licensed tour group.
    (Like us.)

  5. Island visitors can continue to “self-certify” under a general license that they are traveling to Cuba for one of the reasons that are left.
    Also, Cuban-Americans should know they can continue to visit and send money to their family in Cuba.

  6. The new policy additionally prohibits financial transactions which benefit the Cuban military’s business arm—a.k.a. Grupo de Administración Empresarial (GAESA).
    This is POTUS’ effort to put more money in the pockets of free and private Cuban businesses and cut the influx of cash to Raúl Castro's regime.

    So, U.S. travelers will have less say about where they spend their money in Cuba, as the Cuban government has control over plenty of the travel and tourist economy. This includes state-run hotels—even one of the first hotels to open on the island in decases, the Four Points by Sheraton Havana among other big brands—restaurants, and more.

    (It’s estimated that 60 percent of the total Cuban economy is under GAESA’s authority. Perhaps up to 80 percent of the tourism economy is controlled by them, too.)

  7. Renting private properties, like Airbnb rentals, will be permitted.
    Diplomatic relations and Obama's revocation of the "wet foot, dry foot" policy that gave Cubans preferential immigration treatment will also stand.

  8. Americans can continue to return home with their Cuban cigars.
    (Thought you should know.)

  9. But not everyone agrees this is a smart move.
    Congressional Democrats and some Republicans seeking more engagement with Cuba and business-minded conservatives—the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for example—argue this could hurt U.S. businesses and jobs.

  10. What about commercial flights, you ask?
    Last summer, air travel began between the U.S. and Cuba for the first time in over 50 years. These flights will continue uninterrupted under Trump’s Cuba policy, however with lower anticipated travel, a number of carriers will be scaling back their Cuba operations. So if that keeps up once people-to-people trips halt, tour groups may be forced to book more expensive, charter flights. Cruises will also be permitted to make stops

  11. Okay, but when does all of this go into effect?
    Since Friday June 16, the U.S. Treasury and Commerce departments have 30 days to kick off drafting all the new rules under POTUS’ new policy. We’ve also heard “the process takes as long as it takes”.

  12. Travelers who have already scheduled a trip to Cuba can still travel as planned.
    ...until the new regulations take effect.

  13. Not everything is clear yet.
    The Treasury Department must share exactly what this means for those who book trips before the new rules, but visit the island after they are release.

We will contintue to stand with the people of Cuba. None of this will stop us from sharing the “live like a local” experience with more eager travelers. If anything, it will spur us forward to continue to bring our two amazing cultures together!

 If you have any questions we didn’t answer here, please don’t hesitate to contact us or leave a comment below!

 

 

Part I | Why Coast to Costa?

 

These Are Not Your Parents’ Tour Guides

Coast to Costa-12.jpg

 

Written by Tyler Anneliese Moselle

Natalie and Andrew Tyree are on a mission. The dynamic couple delivers personalized travel experiences from a local’s-eye-view, with an emphasis on taking deep dives into regional cuisine. When Natalie and Andrew started Coast to Costa in 2012, travel had long been a part of their lives. Andrew has now led over 15 trips to Cuba, 5 Spain adventures, and countless experiences throughout Mexico’s coastal hideaways, wine regions, and culturally rich pueblos mágicos.

What got Coast to Costa started? Here’s the story behind the “live like a local” life:

Natalie: Where did you grow up?
Andrew: I grew up near L.A. but moved to Northern California and Spain for years before coming back.

 Andrew: Before we knew each other, what cultures most impacted you growing up?

Natalie: Mexican ...definitely!  Both of my parents were born and raised in Mexico. They came here when they were young. I grew up in areas of Los Angeles that are heavily Latino, so it is what I identify with and something that has completely impacted my life.
Andrew: I have to have the same answer ...only my family isn’t Mexican. I have just always been very drawn to Mexican culture, people and the Spanish language.  

Photo by Nicholas Roberts

Photo by Nicholas Roberts

Photo by Sue Zen Chew

Photo by Sue Zen Chew

Natalie: When did you know you wanted to show people the world?
Andrew: I lived in Spain for almost four years and Italy for a year. When I was younger I hadn’t traveled very much and I feel that travel COMPLETELY changed my life. It made me a more open, brave, and curious person. If I can pass that on to people, that is very fulfilling for me.

Andrew: When did you know you wanted to work with me?
Natalie: When we both realized that we have very complementary strengths that has helped propel Coast to Costa to the next level.

Andrew: I came up with the idea almost five years ago and we have been working on it together ever since!

 Andrew: How long have you been doing what you do?
Natalie: I spent 10 years in the fashion industry and two years in travel.
Andrew: I’ve worked in food and restaurants FOREVER! I’ve been on and off for about 8 years and have been in travel for five.


 

Photo by Nicholas Roberts

Photo by Nicholas Roberts

Andrew: What matters most when you’re traveling in a new place?

Natalie: Thinking outside of your bubble, seeing the world through someone else’s eyes and taking it all in to the fullest.
Andrew: I’d say taking a place for what it is, allowing places to move and feel differently. Enjoying a place for its true form is very helpful in traveling.

Natalie: What makes for a great group to travel with?
Andrew: I love when people will have an afternoon drink and can laugh with each other.

Natalie: When people are easy going, open minded, and hungry for culture.  

Andrew: When it comes to food, what do you seek out?
Natalie: Everything! You?
Andrew: All of it!

Photo by Nicholas Roberts

Photo by Nicholas Roberts

 Natalie: So why do people want to travel with us?

Andrew: We bring people to places where we have local friends and contacts that bring us into places to make you feel like a local.  

Natalie: I’d add that it’s fun, hassle free, comes with a personal translator, and it feels like you're traveling with friends showing you around.