Cuba travelogue: food

By far one of the biggest adjustments we had to contend with when visiting Cuba was food.  Not the food we ate — not at all.  Tourists get treated to food of a quality and in a quantity comparable to what you’d find in visiting many places across the globe.

But the locals don’t get off so easily.

What's available

This is a bodega, the Cuban version of a ration center.  We visited in mid-month, when clients were few and the stock (as you can see from the shelves) thin.  From what we were told, though, bodegas are very busy places on the first of the month — when Cuban citizens can come in with their ration books and collect (at relatively low price) their month’s stock of staple foods.

Here’s the blackboard showing the products this bodega has received in the past few weeks, what they cost the consumer, and how much each individual can purchase (hope you can make it through the month on 5 pounds of rice!).

Things rationed

Once you’ve purchased what you’re allowed to at the bodega (limited amounts of primarily shelf-stable foods), anything fresh will have to come from a free market (mercado libre).  The free markets don’t have purchase limits, but they don’t have price controls, either.

Mercado libre

All sorts of food is available to the few people who can pay the price (note the signs — $5 for a pound of corn meal, $5 for a bunch of bananas, $8 for a pineapple).  This, in a country where the average salary is $20 per month.

Cornmeal for sale

Meat is available in quantity as well, but I have to wonder who in Cuba can actually afford to buy it.

Meat market

The sign is hard to read at this size, but the price for a pound of most cuts listed here is $40.  Again, just not going to happen on $20 per month.