Dear Foodie: What’s the Difference Between Mexican and Cuban Food?

Dear Foodie,

Our town is just exploding with restaurants. It seems we never eat at home anymore. Recently, a restaurant with a Cuban theme opened up. I was right there within two weeks. When I asked for chips and salsa, the waiter looked stricken like I had just ordered up a dead rat for an appetizer. I was embarrassed. Did I make a mistake?


Dear “Get with the Program Because Cuba Will Open Up”,

Unfortunately, you point out a raging case of the “ignorant American” syndrome.  Don’t worry because you are not alone and I fall into that category as well.  Without boring you with historical yada- yada, just know that as Americans we have not had to venture out of our comfort zone.  We have seen the proliferation of “Mexican” restaurants and have concluded that everything south of Alabama is about chips and salsa, sombreros, and happy, grinning, toothy mariachi singers who all look alike.

The fact is that the region South of the border – including the Caribbean, Central, and South America — is as diverse as Alabama is from California. (Surely you see my point with this analogy!)  The cuisine is reflective of that diversity.  Cuban food will get more popular just as the Castro brothers fade into the sunset and the American government stops its ridiculous prohibition of travel for pleasure to that island.  You deserve a second chance.

Return to the restaurant and instead of a dead rat, here is a simple instruction manual on how to begin: order some plantain chips. Then regale your waiter with your newfound knowledge.  Rice and beans are common to both Cuban and Mexican food.  Cuban is more Caribbean influenced (duh) with an infusion of colonialism from Africa, American Indian, French East Indian and Spanish cultures.  Mexican food is more indigenous with a base of corn and is influenced by the Mayan and Aztec native culture. Mexican is more spicy; Cuban is said to be savory.

Get yourself educated:  South of the border is the new Europe!

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