If you follow review sites like Tripadvisor, you may notice a lot of reviews that complain about the quality of food in Cuba. We have never found the quality or quantity of food to be an issue. Reviewers need to keep in mind that they are visiting a Caribbean Island. What makes them think that they will have the same food choices that they get at home? Why would you want the same food that you get at home? The climate and culture in Cuba are totally different than at home, so there is no reason to think you will get the same food that you are accustomed to. Are you going to get a 12-ounce steak of Canadian beef? Nope! You won’t get black pepper either as white pepper is what they use in Cuba. Get over this mental barrier and embrace a different culinary experience.
Tamara and I always take our time when we arrive at the buffet. The first thing to do is to find a seat. If you stand there looking lost one of the servers will be happy to help you if you wave at them. Many resorts have seating inside and outside. We always prefer to sit outside where it is quieter and more private. When sitting outside, there are often wee birds that like to pilfer food. Some people are disgusted by that. We find the birds cute and entertaining so long as they don’t bother you while you are eating. Usually, they just wait patiently or hop and flutter around making little bird noises.
If birds are around I wouldn’t suggest leaving your table and expect to finish your meal when you return. Sure it will still be there (unless the servers have collected your plate), but the birds will most likely have started picking away at it. If you are having coffee, cover your mug with your saucer. It isn’t that the birds want your coffee, but it will keep your drink safe and warm for your return. It’s up to you whether to sit inside or outside. If you go inside avoid sitting directly under an air conditioning unit, those things will almost always have a drip somewhere.
Next wait for your server to come by. If it is really busy, you might decide to just go get your food. Leave something at the table (a book or sunglasses) to show that you are sitting there.
When your server comes by to fill your cups, be friendly. Say hello (hola) and ask them how they are today (Como estas?). If they offer you water, be sure to take that. If you are wine drinkers, ask them for that at the same time. The servers are very busy, and there seems to be an aspect of the Cuban culture where they don’t ask twice. Once you get good service, be sure to try and track that person down again on return visits. Wave to them as you enter the buffet. They will know what you like and enjoy chatting with you. We found our wine glasses or coffee cups were seldom empty once we connected with a server. At one resort they even spotted us out in the lobby for evening drinks and ‘reserved’ our favourite patio table for us! It was awesome. Always leave a tip ($2 or $3) for friendly servers and thank them personally. It makes me smile as I am writing this, just thinking about some of the wonderful servers we have had.
Now onto the chaos of the buffet. The next thing to do after getting your table is to walk around the buffet and look at all your food choices. Think about whether you want soup or salad with your meal. Look at the dessert section. Every day there will be different options. Assess how long the line-ups are for freshly cooked items and whether it is worth the wait. A good resort will have no more than a 5 or 10-minute wait. There is usually a pork roast or chicken option at the buffet that doesn’t require waiting in line. It is good to look around first because there is a tendency to take too much food and then have no room left for dessert, which is a travesty!
Remember that you can always go back for more. Take less and go back for seconds rather than take too much and waste food. Make sure that you always get a new plate if you return to the buffet. Taking a used plate back is very unsanitary. Also, don’t snack at the buffet- this is just plain gross for everyone.
Some items that are always good at the buffet:
- The ‘cooked in front of you’ stations are always a good choice. I often enjoy omelettes. If you like more cheese on your omelette, go over to the cheese section and put a slice on it while it is still hot.
- Congri (rice with black beans) will likely be at most buffets. This is sure to be tasty.
- Any roast or whole chicken is usually moist and tasty.
- I love the Chorizo Sausage found at the buffet.
Some helpful ‘hacks’ from Tamara:
- Sometimes they will have french fries or something along that line. Rarely do they have white vinegar but if you wander over to the salad bar there is often a type of vinegar there.
- The ketchup will be different than what you are accustomed to. It is probably made at the resort. The salsa is also different but makes a great ketchup substitute if you have an open mind. In fact, none of the condiments are what we are used to, so- as I said before, keep an open mind and go looking in all of the places for a solution.
- My favourite breakfast routine was to check out the fresh bread baskets. I would then put poached eggs on my chosen bread. I like to top them with meat (bacon if it was available or ham), cheese and salsa. When there was french toast in the breakfast bar I chose that and would top it with syrup and then go and add all of the things- except for the salsa.
- Lunch and supper can also be handled in a similar fashion which is why it is important to look at all of the options. A good example would be Italian night when there are usually a few pasta choices. The options will be in different areas of the buffet. Pick what you like and put together your own combinations. Sometimes it takes quite a bit of creativity but worth the effort.
a la Cartes
A la Cartes are restaurants located inside the resort. Reservations are required for these- usually, you get two or three a week. They give you the opportunity to enjoy some romantic dining while on vacation. You will get full service at these restaurants and the opportunity to order from a menu. You will want to book these right away after you check-into the resort as they can fill up quickly. Some resorts let you book them in advance of your arrival. Join up with the resort’s Facebook page and ask if this is possible via a private message. A la Cartes are intended to be fancy, so dress up a bit and enjoy yourself. It is a Cuban tradition for men to wear long pants, shoes and a shirt when dining out. Wear something nice and make the evening special.
The resort will offer you a wine menu, which will not be part of the all-inclusive and will cost you extra. We love wine but aren’t connoisseurs (more like consumers). They will happily serve you the house wine if you so choose.
The menus will be written in a few languages. Try your best at picking what appetizer, soup, main and dessert will go together. You can always ask your server what they suggest. We have had good luck with that. Be friendly with your server! The resort tries to make it formal and fancy, but most of the servers work at other resort locations when the a la Carte is not open.
We have had pretty good success with a la Cartes at the various resorts we have been to. Be sure to give them a try! If you don’t like something you can always go to the buffet afterwards.
Often there are family-run restaurants located outside the resort. You are best to read online reviews before you decide whether to dine off-site. You may run a higher risk of getting Turista. Be careful that any water you drink is is bottled.