Cocina Cubana in the Florida Keys and Southern Florida

In North America, March is the prelude to Spring.  Unlike many other countries across the globe, geographically speaking this region of the world is so North that true spring blossoms and perfumes the air – if we are lucky – by mid April/early May.  When it does come, it is a true celebration of life and colors all around but it is also so short, about a month, then summer bursts right in.

Imagine that we have had to stay inside since November this year {going on 5 months now!} and though temperatures are rising {close to 40s}…..I just needed to defrost my bones and my imagination for a while and headed to Southern Florida last week….as far south as I could reach…..I was so eager and thirsty for sunshine and sea…..that I traveled to the Florida Keys……driving through all of them until we reached the incredible Key West.   We were welcomed by sunny, clear blue skies and 86 degree temperatures…..

Turquoise waters in Key West, 90 minutes from Cuba   {Copyright Francesca Mignosa}
Turquoise waters in Key West, 90 minutes from Cuba {Copyright Francesca Mignosa}

I have heard stories and anecdotes of Key West for about 16 years now, one of my closest uncles and life mentors has lived there every winter for that long – but for a reason or another – I had not had an opportunity to visit.   I will share a few reflections on our walking tours of the turquoise and soothing island in upcoming posts …..today I want to start from the belly, the center and substance of our experience……food!

You may have probably already heard that Key West is only 90 miles from Cuba!  In fact, if I could have, I would have also taken a ferry to this island whose music, colors, people and food I love deeply.  Buena Vista Social Club, anyone? I grew up with those sounds and rhythms in my casa in Sicilia, for his looks and love for music, my Papa’ could easily pass for a Cubano!  In fact, we got him a hat and fancy sunglasses and he entertained us the entire journey with his whimsical Sicilian-Cuban presence.  I even urged him to go play bocce with his Cubano cousins, but he said “next time/la prossima volta! ”

The Cuban presence is everywhere in Key West and Southern Florida.  If you talk to a true Floridian, they will make it a point to say that Key West is a world and culture of its own, different than Southern, Northern or Western Florida.   While taking a stroll on Duval Street, we came across the Museo San Carlos, an Institute dedicated to the study of language, people, culture, history and identity of Cubanos in Florida and the USA.  It was built in 1871 by a group of Cuban exiles, strong believers and promoters of the Cuban Independent Movement.

San Carlos Museum, Key West  {Copyright Francesca Mignosa}
San Carlos Museum, Key West {Copyright Francesca Mignosa}

….but you can also find Cuban cigars being rolled before your eyes at every other corner.  Often, they mix with their Dominican neighbors.  Though I don’t personally smoke, it was a fascinating learning experience.

Rolled Cuban cigars in Key West {Copyright Francesca Mignosa}
Rolled Cuban cigars in Key West {Copyright Francesca Mignosa}

 

Cuban cigar shops in Key West  {Copyright Francesca Mignosa}
Cuban cigar shops in Key West {Copyright Francesca Mignosa}

Our experience could not be complete without a taste of authentic Cuban cuisine at El Siboney, voted Best Cuban Restaurant in Key West since 1993!  Though I’m not too fond of awards, I am more interested in genuine, wholesome experiences, I was delighted to learn that the restaurant is a small family-owned business, located off the beaten path, away from the crowds and tourist boom of Duval Street.  As you enter, you feel as though you have entered a cozy, small Cuban home……

I was curious to know more about the meaning and origin of the restaurant name , El Siboney {www.elsiboneyrestaurant.com} and asked one of the friendly waitresses.  She explained that the Siboney were one of the first indigenous people of Cuba before 1492 and that by choosing them to name the restaurant, they were hoping to preserve the spirit, identity and roots of their native people.  The restaurant was packed, it is a hot spot in Key West, but provides a depth in the historical and cultural experience on this enchanting island.

We were 5 pax and enjoyed Cuban mix sandwiches, Pan Cubano {Cuban bread}, Black Bean Soup, Filet de Cherna {Grilled Grouper} with Yellow Rice and Fried Plantains, Camaron Al Ajillo {Grilled Garlic Shrimp freshly caught daily around the island}, Yuca Frita {Cuban Fried Potatoes – a mix of potatoes and squash} with a side dressing of olive oil, lime juice, onions, cilantro and…….of course, un Café Cubano to top of our first Cuban gastronomic experience!

Cuban Mix Sandwich in Key West {Copyright Francesca Mignosa}
Cuban Mix Sandwich in Key West {Copyright Francesca Mignosa}
Camaron Al Ajillo {Grilled Garlic Shrimp Cuban Style} at El Siboney, Key West   {Copyright Francesca Mignosa}
Camaron Al Ajillo {Grilled Garlic Shrimp Cuban Style} at El Siboney, Key West {Copyright Francesca Mignosa}
Filet De Cherna {Grilled Grouper Filet} at El Siboney in Key West   {Copyright Francesca Mignosa}
Filet De Cherna {Grilled Grouper Filet} at El Siboney in Key West {Copyright Francesca Mignosa}
Yuca Frita  in Key West  {Copyright Francesca Mignosa}
Yuca Frita in Key West {Copyright Francesca Mignosa}
Café Cubano  in Key West {Copyright Francesca Mignosa}
Café Cubano in Key West {Copyright Francesca Mignosa}

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Robert Charles says:

    So can I depend on you to make me a Cubano Sangwich. Zio

    BobbySent from my iPhone

    >

  2. very lovely post on the Cucina Cuban experience,  those photos of the food from El Siboney were amazing.I m sure readers are going to be drawn to the Key West experience and contact your travel agency soon.They going to want you to be their tour guide.So why don t you organize a tour to Cuba with a bunch of people, since you know Spanish also, it couldmake your tour business profitable.Remember, only 90 miles to Cuba by ferry, the demand by the globalcommunity is huge, even European and Asian travelers would want you to lead them there, What a great connection the Key West to cuba itinernary going to be !

    1. Great idea, zio! We’ll talk…..grazie!!!

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