I'm down in Florida visiting my best friend. Before I came down, she told me that she wanted to take me on a food tour. Amazingly enough, I've never been on one so of course I was game. She sent me a link to MiamiCulinaryTours.com and out of the 3 or 4 options, we both agreed that the Little Havana Food Tour was the one. We both love Caribbean cuisine and judging from the tour's description, we were going to learn just as much about Cuban and Cuban-American culture then we were about the food. So $56 later, (minus $10 w/ the offer code TWITTER) we were all set for a day of food and fun.
Throughout the entire 2.5 hr tour, I photographed everything. The food and anything else I thought was interesting. The pictures are below and all I can do is hope that they captured this amazing experience!
We met our tour guide on Calle Ocho (8th Street) in a contemporary art gallery (one of many in Little Havanna now). We checked out the amazing art and then we were taken to our first stop: El Pub. After we walked past the little window (for coffee to-go) and a huge food counter (for the regulars) we were escorted to a long table in the dining room. Above us, the World Cup was playing and then little shots of Cuban coffee were put before us. Our tour guide said this was the perfect introduction to Cuban Culture. Then came the food!
First course was Empanadas filled with ground beef and onions. Our guide made a point to tell us that they are handmade from scratch and even though empanadas are really from Argentina (I kind of want to confirm this) they are very popular on Calle Ocho and in Cuban cooking. These were quite tasty!
After the empanadas, out came our 2nd dish. She said the name a few times and I wish I had written it down, though let's be honest, I probably would've butchered it anyway. But I do know they were Tostones or green plantains filled with chicken. The chicken was cooked in spices with a little tomato and onion. It was quite different but delicious. After eating these I wish I had Guy Fiere privileges because I wanted to go into the kitchen to learn how to get the plantains to form into these little cups. Quite the mystery.
After El Pub we walked a few doors down to another authentic Cuban restaurant for one of the most famous Cuban dishes: The Cuban Sandwich. I've eaten this sandwich a few times but never like this. On the tour we got "The Midnight Sandwich" which was the Cuban but with a sweeter bread. See just like any other Cuban Sandwich this one had roasted pork, ham, cheese, pickles and mustard. But we were told that this version was created for the cigar makers who would get off work at midnight. They would be hungry and looking for something filling but with some sweetness since it was dessert time. Well a chef created the Sammy you see below and it became so popular that people started asking for it this way; the "midnight" way. I wasn't expecting to like it but it was quite good. The bread reminded me of potato bread and it somehow worked with the other ingredients.
After eating ALOT, it was the perfect time to take a break from food and explore the other cool things Little Havanna had to offer. The first was a real cigar factory.
This gentleman Pedro Bello Sr. gets to sit outside of his well known cigar store because he is the holder of the Crystal Leaf Award; the most prestigious in the cigar industry. Mr. Bello is treated as a tourist attraction while his son and grandson continue to hand roll cigars inside.
Not sure if this is his son or grandson but man he was hot. (I'm a sucker for a nice smile)
After the cigar shop, we walked through Domino Park which was set up for the elders in the neighborhood to play...you guessed it! Dominoes! And chess. The integrity of the park is upheld by a few rules that include: no gambling, no drinking, no weapons, just to name a few. So hustlers were not welcome, just men and women who truly enjoyed the game.
Now, we were told, it was time for dessert! Our guide took us to a traditional Cuban bakery for a delicious sweet pastry (didn't get the name of this one either) filled with a Guava jelly. She told us this pastry is usually eaten for breakfast, amazingly enough, and the even more popular version has cheese mixed in with the filling. I would love to try that kind but this...it was perfection!
We left the bakery and ended up in a fruit stand/juice bar. We were given a juice pressed from Cuban Sugar Cane to wash down our pastry. It's pictured below. I was surprised to find it sweet but not too sweet and therefore quite refreshing!
The fruits available came from Cuba and other parts of the Caribean and South America. A couple folks on the tour purchased some and a few even got coconut water to go.
Last but not least we ended up in Azucar Ice Cream Shop (azucaricecream.com) for one more round of dessert. This stop on the tour was a bit different from the others. The shop hadn't been open for decades, there was adequate seating and credit cards were accepted. However, this shop is on Calle Ocho because a Cuban-American woman named Suzy Batlle opened it after working in business for years to honor her Abuelita (or Grandmother). Her Grandmother had a passion for creating ice cream flavors with Cuban influence and Suzy wanted to share this deliciousness with the masses. Bless her!
The flavor I ended up with was Cafe con Leche which, interestingly enough, was topped with Oreos. One word: phenomenal!
But before settling on that flavor we were told that we could try as many as we wanted and I swear I tried all that were available (about 24 each day) or close to it. Though as you can see from the flavor list, she has created TONS of unique combinations that places this shop far above the average.
All in all, my first food tour exceeded my expectations. I was inspired in so many ways and it only made me want to do more. I'm hoping to continue this "April's Eatin'" portion of my blog with more food tour and restaurant experiences because any good cook has to get out there and eat!