Jaimanitas, Cuba

Marina Hemingway is located right next to the town of Jaimanitas.  The best part of this, as far as we were concerned, is that this is a normal Cuban neighborhood that does not cater to tourists.  Once we walked off the marina grounds, we felt like we were in the “real” Cuba.

The busy main road through town is lined with bus stops and a variety of shops.

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The main drag through town.

There are two panaderias where one buys bread, rolls, and crackers.

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This was my favorite bread store.  A bag of six fluffy yeast rolls (kind of like hamburger buns) was 1 CUC ($1.13 USD).  She also had cookies, crackers, and baguettes.

A large ration store offers flour, sugar, dried beans, and other subsidized foodstuffs.

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Foods sold in the rational stores are subsidized for Cubans, and the prices are in moneda nacional.  If there is extra of an item, then those without a ration card ask to buy some of it.

There is a small snack shop that sells canned drinks and the ubiquitous Cuban pizza, which we have dubbed Cuba’s national food.

(A note about Cuban pizza:  Every restaurant has a large menu, and virtually nothing on it is available.   The server points out what two or three dishes can be purchased that day, and that always includes pizza.  Snack shops sell pizzas instead of sandwiches, and the pizzas are frequently eaten rolled like a soft taco.  The crust is a soft cornmeal, and the cheese tastes like Gouda or another mild cheese.  Snack shop sandwiches are generally a roll with ham and cheese, and we didn’t see those offered many places.)

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This is another ration store that was down the street.  It always had a line.

Cruisers familiar with the area took us under their wing and brought us along to the Saturday farmer’s market, which was deep inside the neighborhood streets.  There was a cadeca (currency exchange bureau) onsite as well as a hair salon.  The market was packed with vendors selling vegetables including yucca, onions, tomatoes, peppers, bok choy, green cabbage, beets, green leaf lettuce, eggplants, garlic, and broccoli (apparently for the first time).

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Bringing your own plastic bags was a must as the common wisdom is leaving the dirt on the vegetables keeps them fresher longer.  The market was loud and exciting with throngs of people milling around.

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The meat vendor was very busy and had a long line.  To buy meat, the buyer points to what they want.  The butcher brings it down from the hook in the ceiling and places it in front of the buyer, who shows how much they want by gesturing on the meat itself.  The butcher places his machete on the “cut” line and pounds the machete with a pipe to cut through the flesh and bone.  The butcher then hands over the meat, and you better have a bag to put it in.  The Captain bought a couple of pounds of smoked bone-in pork loin (i.e. pork chops) for $90 moneda nacional, or less than $4 USD.

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The butcher was a real ham (ha ha ha, see what I did there?). 

(Another note, this time about lines.  Frequently there is just a gaggle of people in front of a counter, and you don’t know where to stand or who is next.  When you call out “Ultimo,” whoever is last will raise their hand.  You are after that person.  Now you just listen for anyone else calling out “Ultimo” and raise your hand.  It’s remarkably efficient.)

Some housewares and clothing were also for sale, as well as juices and churros.  I tried fresh tamarind juice for the first time and am in love.  The streets were full of horse-drawn carts, motorbikes, street dogs, and running children.  It was a marvelous experience, and I ended up with some great vegetables.

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My new obsession:  churros.  Pulped yucca is put into the pot, and when the handle is spun, a thin stream comes out the spout and into the boiling oil.  Once crispy, the churros are removed and cut into french fry-like pieces with scissors.  Douse liberally with sugar and put in a paper cone.  $3 moneda nacional later (about $0.15 USD), and I’m in heaven.

The same cruisers showed us what turned out to be our favorite restaurant in Cuba, El Callejon.  There is no way we could have ever found it ourselves.  It is located on a road that is off of the main road, up an alley between houses; the landmark to look for is—and I’m not joking here—the last telephone pole on the left of the street.

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Step one:  Go down the main road and turn onto this residential street.  Walk for a while.  Look for the last telephone pole on the left.

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Step two:  go up this alley.  This is from the restaurant looking down to the street.  Try not to antagonize the dachshund barking from the second floor balcony.

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Step three:  arrival! Go up to the menu board and order at the counter (where the gentleman in blue is).  Wait for your foot and enjoy!

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The menu board.  Prices are in moneda nacional.

The restaurant is essentially a man’s back patio, and the food is fantastic.  The menu board lists what is available that day, and you can choose from a la carte items or meal plates.  Each time we went we had two meal plates, a beer, and a soda for $100 moneda nacional—or $4 USD total.  The Captain usually had a pork dish (that came with beans and rice, boiled plaintains, and a small portion of vinegary slaw), and I had the huevos fritos (fried eggs) that came with the same sides.  Divine.  A steady stream of people came in for take out, which meant handing over their old plastic container which was then filled with food.

Jaimanitas is known for a neighborhood called Fusterlandia.  I will write about that in a separate post.

About Sail Kestrel

We are two full time cruisers aboard our Island Packet 35 sailboat, Kestrel.
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