Last year, Cubans emigrated to America in staggering numbers. The U.S. admitted nearly 11 times as many Cuban immigrants without visas by land or sea in 2016 as it did in 2013, according to the most recent U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. Because of increased tourism and an influx of Cuban residents, Cuban food is heating up on menus nationwide. Here's how.
Flavors on the rise
Technomic’s MenuMonitor database shows that Cuban mojo (a citrus-based sauce) has a 100% growth rate at high-volume independents and emerging chains. Further, about two-fifths of consumers are interested in ordering Cuban sandwiches, according to Technomic’s Sandwich Consumer Trend Report.
“I think with Cuba becoming more open to visit, people are more interested in what’s there and the cuisine there,” says Dan Skay, executive chef at Parker Adventist Hospital in Parker, Colo. “Here in Colorado, where Spanish and Latin American foods are very popular, Cuban food is an easy sell for us.”
Playing off current events
“When trade restrictions were lifted and there was a lot of talk of Cuba in news and of Cuba tourism, we decided to do a special Night in Havana dinner,” says Mark Kowalski, executive chef at Penn State University in University Park, Pa. The dinner featured items such as a Cuban black bean and potato soup, mango bread, ropa vieja (slow-roasted skirt steak), boiled yucca and a mojito cake.
Noncommercial chefs must satisfy a variety of special dietary needs, and pork dishes, a Cuban staple, don’t always fit the bill for some diners—or even some dining programs. Parker Adventist Hospital does not serve pork or shellfish products in keeping with Adventist culture; however, chefs are not shying away from other Cuban-inspired items.
“We have a Castle Rock Cubano sandwich with Cajun-spiced turkey, beer mustard, honey-jalapeno dill pickle slices and Swiss cheese. This was my closest twist on that traditional Cubano,” Skay says.
Some Penn State campuses also offer a vegetarian version of a Cubano made with grilled portabella mushroom, which was featured at the university’s Night in Havana dinner.