One of the measures instituted by the Cuban government in the face of the economic collapse of the “special period”, following the desintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of its Cuban economic subsidies, was to permit folks to open private restaurants, called “paladars”. The food at paladars is generally superior to that encountered in the state run restaurants and the paladars are generally cleaner with better service. A little incentive, it seems, goes a long way.
When in Playa Baracoa recently Long Life Harborite, a variety of friends, and I ate a number of times at Oshin’s, a paladar specializing in “comida criolla”. A paladar with a Japanese name specializing in native food. I asked Oshin about her Japanese name and she informed me that three generations back her ancestors came from Japan.
Oshin apparently enjoyed our visits, appreciating I think our incessant silliness, and one evening bought us an intricately decorated cake. Soon silliness ensued as Oshin poked her finger into the frosting and smeared some on Long Life Harborite. It wasn’t long before we were smearing frosting on each other and licking each others fingers.
The open air restaurant was covered by a beautiful palm frond thatched roof and just across the wall was the restaurant’s primary and secondary waste treatment facilities, composed of chickens, cats, and dogs. Scraps were thrown to the animals which cleaned up every scrap, with the chickens presumably providing secondary treatment of the dog and cat waste. Over the wall at the other side of the restaurant could be heard the grunting of pigs.
The night of our first visit Oshin’s son, Juan, was celebrating his twenty first birthday with a number of friends. We contributed to the party with a number of beers. A couple evenings later Juan had a string of sea birds, hung over the handle bars of his bicycle, he had shot with the most decrepit shot gun I’ve ever seen.
Life Long Harborite and I also had a delicious shrimp dinner at a second story paladar in Havana overlooking the Malecon.
If you visit Cuba be sure to ask for directions to a paladar. You won’t be disappointed.