Cuba, Day 2, Part 2: Old Plaza, San Francisco Plaza, El Templete Restaurant

It’s time for us to return to Cuba and continue our exploration of the once largely forbidden (to US citizens, anyway) now somewhat accessible island. Valeria and I traveled with Ross Halleck of Halleck Vineyard and 10 other members of the Inner Circle, the Halleck wine club. We were there to explore the culture, art, architecture, food and drink of Cuba while getting to know the Cuban people by interacting with them directly. The folks at Cuba Explorer helped Ross plan the tour and took care of all the logistics, permitting and others details, which can still be pretty complicated for Americans.


We had been on the island for just over 24 hours, but had already explored Revolution Square, Almendares Park and Miramar Park and enjoyed a terrific lunch of local specialties at El Aljibe Restaurant. And that was just the morning of Day 1! That afternoon found us at the Church of the Holy Guardian Angel, the Museum of the Revolution, and a relaxing dinner in our Hotel, the Meliá Cohiba. On the morning of Day 2 we walked through Plaza de Armas, Cathedral Square and Mercaderes Street. It was Mercaderes Street that took us to the Plaza Vieja (Old Plaza or Old Square, as in town square) and that is where we pick up our tour for this post.


Before the morning was over, we would explore the Plaza Vieja, the Plaza de San Francisco and have lunch at Restaurante El Templete. We would also explore some of the sites near and between these locations. Here is a map to help orient you.

Center map
Plaza Vieja
Plaza de San Francisco
El Templete Restaurant

What is now the Old Plaza was not, of course, always old. In 1587, the Havana City Council decided to build a new public square, the Plaza Nueva (New Plaza) in an area that opened up in 1559 as the Saint Francis Convent (which we will get to a bit later) was being built.  


The New Plaza was deigned to be a residential area to complement the Plaza de Armas (Weapons Plaza or Parade Grounds), which was used by the military. Nevertheless, the New Plaza was used for some military exercises, among many other things, in its early years. During most of the 1700s, it was a central market and was renamed the Plaza Mercado (Market Square). In 1814, the Nueva Mercado was built and the now over 200-year-old square was renamed Plaza Vieja. At various times the plaza was also known as the Plaza Real, Plaza Mayor, Plaza Fernando VII, Plaza of the Constitution and other names.

From its earliest days, Plaza Vieja has been the home to some of Havana’s wealthiest citizens. After the Revolution, it became a low-rent tenement neighborhood and the buildings decayed substantially. In it’s long history, it has seen executions, military processions, religious processions, bullfights, and fiestas (parties) of all kinds. 

In the 1930s, much often plaza was damaged or demolished when President Gerardo Machado ordered an underground parking lot built on the site. The plaza was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in the 1980s. This began a major restoration effort. In 1997, the parking lot was demolished and the square has been slowly restored to it’s original beauty. What were tenement hotels are now being transformed into fine shops, restaurants, hotels and homes.

There are three large works of art in the Plaza today. You can see one of them reaching into the sky just to the left of center in the photo above. Here’s a closer view.


I wasn’t able to find any information on who created this sculpture or exactly when (though it has to be in the 21st century), but the Cuban pigeons, like pigeons everywhere else, showed no particular respect for art.


Similarly, Cuban children, like children everywhere, enjoyed trying (and failing) to catch the pigeons.


The oldest—sort of— piece of art in the square is a marble fountain.


I say this is “sort of” the oldest artwork in the square because it was first build around 1796 after a design by the Italian artist Giorgio Massari. However, the original fountain was destroyed in the 1930s when, as mentioned earlier, President Gerardo Machado had a parking garage built in the square. It was rebuilt in the 2000s using the same Carrara marble as was used on the original. Carrara marble comes from a mine in a small town called Carrara in Tuscany, Italy and has been prized since Roman times. You can see the fountain and the fence around it in the left center portion of the panoramic view of the square, above. 

The fountain has been respectfully and beautifully rebuilt by the Cuban people, but, like the modern art piece, it gets no such respect from the pigeons, for whom it is just another bird bath.


The third sculpture, Viaje Fantástico (Fantastic Voyage), on the Plaza Vieja is also modern, and perhaps not what you would expect to find.


This sculpture is by Roberto Fabelo, an artist who was born in Cuba in 1951 (or 1950; my references don’t agree). He continues to live and work there. 


As you might imagine, this piece gets more than its fair share of attention. After all, how often do you see a naked, bald woman carrying a huge fork and riding a giant cock? (Sounds like something from a porn movie but, as you can see, it is not.)

Turning our attention to the buildings that line the square, the architecture is varied, to say the least. Colonial buildings from the XVII, XVIII and XIX century and some examples of the early twentieth century can be seen. Most are in some stage of renovation and restoration. I was not able to identify all of the buildings, but the ones I could have a story, as I am sure they all do.

For example, the Palacio Viena Hotel (Palacio Cueto) has been under restoration for over 10 years, but there is not much visible progress.


Despite its poor condition, it is one of the most interesting buildings on the plaza. It was built in 1906 as a hat factory. Perhaps the best example of art nouveau architecture in Cuba, the facade has many Gaudi-esque features such as curved lines, elaborate adornment, and statues of mythical figures all over the facade. It was leased in the 1920s by José Cueto (which is why it is sometimes called Palacio Cueto) who turned it into the Palacio Viena Hotel. Later, it became an apartment building and today the government is (slowly) restoring it as a luxury hotel.

I did not know all of that when I saw the building and, sadly, this is the only picture I took of it. I wish I had captured a shot of the whole building and some often detail, but when I saw the facade what immediately came to mind was a black and white, gothic looking shot like this:


So, I got the shot I wanted, but missed a lot more.

Let’s take a closer look at the buildings on the western side of the plaza.


This photo was taken looking west. You can see the modern sculpture and the fenced-in fountain in the foreground. The background is the western side often plaza. The building on the far left of the image is on the southwest corner of the square and is La Casa de los Condes de Jaruco (The House of the Counts of Jarusco, built 1733–37, also called La Casona, The Big House). Jarusco is a town east of Havana. This house was built by the father of the man who would become the first Count of Jarusco when it was founded in 1762 as San Juan Bautista de Jaruco. It was constructed using local lime stone in a baroque style. Today it houses the Diago Galería de Arte (Diago Art Gallery), which exhibits the works of native Cuban painters, on the first floor, and La Casona Galería de Arte, which displays the works of contemporary Cuban and international artists, on the second floor. It is also home to members of the Génesis Galerías de Arte and a restaurant.

This door leads to La Casona.


As we round the corner to walk along the western facade (moving right in the photo), there are three yellow buildings with large arched windows on the upper floors. Identifying these buildings proved to be challenging. Today, the first building houses the Factoría Plaza Vieja (The Old Plaza Factory). The first floor of the Old Plaza Factory is occupied a modern microbrewery (the only one in Havana) called La Taberna de la Muralla (“The Tavern of the Wall”; I have no idea what that means). It is owned and operated by Austrians, who typically know a thing or two about beer. I am not a beer drinker (but let’s talk about wine, Scotch, and Bourbon, shall we?) so my opinion would not me worth much even if I had tried it. Online reviews are almost unanimously enthusiastic about the beer, much less so about the consistency of the service or the quality of the food.

The second building houses the Café Bohemia on the first floor and rental apartments on the second floor. Again, I had no time to try the food and drink in the cafe, but it was a beautiful space and the food looked great. 

The third building has rental apartments on the 2nd and 3rd floors with a restaurant on the first floor. It is a beautifully restored building.


The real challenge was getting the history of these three buildings. One of them is the 18th-century Casa del Conde de Lombillo (House of the Count of Lombillo) and I believe it is the middle one, housing the Café Bohemia. However, some sources say the first building, housing the Factoría Plaza Vieja, is actually the Casa del Conde de Lombillo. I wasn’t able to find any information on the third, 3-story building.

Sharp readers may recall La Casa Conde de Lombillo which we saw in the Plaza de la Catedral (Cathedral Square) in the previous article in this series. Same name, but different places. 

Continuing along the western side (to the right in the photo) we come to La Casa del Conde de San Estéban de Cañongo.


This one has a long history, some of which is uncertain. The house that was originally built on this spot was one of the first two building on the Plaza Nueva. In the nineteenth century, the original house was purchased by Don Jose Agustin Valdes Pedroso, the “Count of San Esteban de Cañongo”, who was a wealthy landowner. This is when it became known as La Casa del Conde de San Estéban de Cañongo. In 1859, the Pedroso heirs sold the house and it was converted from a residence to the home of various shops. Cosme Blanco Herrera bought the house in 1911 and did extensive renovations, creating a new facade (hence the “1912” on the crest at the top of the building), and adding the third floor. In the following years the interior was changed several times, creating apartments of varying size and quality. Like essentially every building on the square, it deteriorated badly after the revolution until it was purchased in 2006 by the Oficina del Historiador de la Ciudad de La Habana (Office of the Historian of the City of Havana). The building was restored and opened in 2008 with apartments on the upper floors and an art gallery featuring the work of Belgian and Cuban cartoonists on the first floor.

The next and last building on the western side of the plaza is La Casa de las Hermanas Cárdenas (The House of the Cárdenas Sisters). The house was built in 1602 and is named for the daughters of Agustín de Cárdenas Vélez, Marques de Cárdenas de Monte Hermoso (Dona Maria Loreto and Dona Maria Ignacia Cárdenas Santa Cruz) who famously lived and entertained in the home in the 17th century. Later, it became the home of the Philharmonic Society. It deteriorated badly in the mid-1900s, but in 1984 the Department of Monuments of the Directorate of Cultural Heritage carried out an extensive restoration. In 1989, the building reopened as The Visual Arts Development Center, which coordinates exchanges of art exhibits between Cuba and other countries. 

The columns you see on the far right edge of the panorama above are part of El Colegio del Santo Ángel (the College of the Holy Angel) on the north side of the plaza. Here is a picture showing that building more clearly.


The building was originally the house of Susana Benitez de Parejo, a wealthy young widow. It is still sometimes referred to as La Casa de Susana Benitez de Parejo. Later, it was used as an orphanage for young boys, a Catholic school (El Colegio del Santo Ángel), and finally as a music conservatory until 1993 when the building collapsed. It was one of the first building to be restored on the plaza, and now houses an excellent restaurant on the ground floor with luxury apartments above. 

I was not able to find any information on the two beautiful buildings next to Santo Ángel. As you can see in the photos below, they still need some restoration, but they are magnificent.




Another building on the east side of the square caught my attention. I have not been able to identify it, but it looked the the first story was being renovated while the second and third were in use as apartments. 


Laundry was hanging in many windows and balconies all across Havana, as few people can afford washers and driers.


There was a short street or alley that led from the plaza to the next street over that did not appear to be benefiting from the restoration efforts, at least so far.


In the northeast corner of the plaza is the Edificio Gómez Vila (Gómez Vila Building).



This is the tallest (5 stories) building on the Old Square. I found two accounts of when and by whom it was built: 1) by Jose Gomez-Mena Vila, known as “Don Pepe,” a very wealthy Cuban who owned large tracts of land and over 500 houses, apartments and other buildings, in1933; 2) by Mrs. María Luisa Gómez Mena de Cajigas in 1909. She was the wife of Agapito Cajigas, a wealthy industrialist, and a descendant of the powerful Gòmez Mena family. In any event, the sources agree that the building was used by banks, government agencies and various other commercial entities until it was seized by the government after the revolution and fell into decay. 

The building was restored by the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana in 2002. Today it is best known for housing a camera obscura. A camera obscura, sometimes called a pinhole camera, is one of the earliest and simplest forms of projector or camera. Basically, a whole in a wall or box will project an inverted (upside down and backwards) image of whatever is outside the wall or box into the darkened room or box. (“Camera obscura” is Latin for “darkened room.”) A large camera obscura, donated to Cuba by the Provincial Council of Cadiz, Spain, is located on the top floor of the Gómez Vila Building. An operator moves the turrent around and is able to project images from all across the city onto an approximately 6′ (1.8m) concave screen. It’s pretty cool.

Here is a map showing the location of everything we have discussed in the Plaza Vieja, along with an aqueduct and hotel that we are going to next.

Center map
Hotel Los Frailes
Modern Sculpture (flower)
Viaje Fantástico Sculpture
La Casa de los Condes de Jaruco
Factoría Plaza Vieja
La Casa Conde de Lombillo
Casa del Conde San Estéban de Cañongo
La Casa de las Hermanas Cárdenas
El Colegio del Santo Ángel
Edificio Gómez Vila
Palacio Viena Hotel
Zanja Real

Leaving the Plaza Viaje on Mercaderes in the northeast corner, by the Edificio Gómez Vila, it’s only a few steps to Teniente Rey (sometimes called Brasil) street where you can see remnants of the Zanja Real (Royal Canal).



The Zanja Real is an aqueduct that was built to bring water from what is now called the Almendares river (which we saw in the park of the same name in an earlier entry in this series) and distribute it through the city. It was a formidable engineering feat to build a dam to raise the water level enough to go over a large swampy area (which would pollute the water) and design a canal system that would operate entirely by gravity. Construction was complicated by landslides, hurricanes, and high costs (special taxes were imposed to fund the construction). It was originally proposed in 1544, approved in 1565, and finally completed in 1592. As you can see in the map below, it was an impressive complex of canals.


The remnants of the Zanja Real are right next to Hotel Los Frailes (Hotel of the Friars). 


The hotel is located between the Plaza Vieja and the Basilica and Monastery of St Francis of Assisi in the Plaza de San Francisco (which we’ll get to next). The hotel is meant to give the feel of being in a monastery, to the point that most of the rooms are built like a monk’s cell, with no windows. However, the rooms are air-conditioned, clean and large enough to be comfortable. The employees wear gray robes like monks and you will see metal monks like the one above in various locations around the hotel, in case you forget where you are.


It’s a bit quirky, but it is also beautiful.


There is a fountain in the foyer…


…along with a metal monk that appears to be dancing.


As we turned onto Oficios Street from Teniente Rey, the bell tower of the Basilica de San Francisco de Asis (Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi) could be seen as it rose into the blue sky.


We’ll see more of the basilica in a moment, but first we walked past Estudio-Galería Los Oficios (Studio-Gallery on Los Oficios), which is the studio and gallery of Nelson Dominguez, a famous Cuban artist.


Dominguez was born in 1947 on the opposite side of the island from Havana, in a small town called Baire about 60 miles (100 km)  Santiago de Cuba. He works in many media, creating paintings, engravings, drawings and sculptures. He also designs pieces for decorating interiors, such as the ones on the image above. Anyone who know me or reads my blog regularly will know why these items caught my attention.

You can see many more of Dominguez’s works at his web site, which you can view in English or Spanish. A quick linguistic note: you will see many references to his work in “plastic” from the Spanish plastíca, which generally refers to the material called “plastic” in English. In this context, however, plastíca refers to acrylic paint (which can be thought of as “plastic paint”). 

Moving farther north along Oficios I passed a sleeping dog and, of course, let him lie.


One of my favorite things about Cuba, and most Latin American countries I have visited, is the number of dogs who belong to no one and everyone. They wander the streets, hand out in neighborhoods or wander the countryside, getting fed and making new friends all the time.

Just before Oficios joins the Plaza de San Francisco, right next to the Basilica de San Francisco, you’ll pass this bearded fellow.


At first I thought it was a statue of Don Quixote or some other Spanish literary figure. Nope. It’s José María López Lledín, El Caballero de Paris (The Gentleman of Paris) who born in Spain in 1899, emigrated to Havana when he was 12 to live with his uncle and sister. You can read the fascinating story of his life here, although many important details of his life, his illness, his nickname and so on remain the subjects of as much speculation as fact. He suffered a number of tragedies in his life and became mentally ill, wandering the streets of Havana in the 1950s. He was well-educated and well-spoken, and, apparently, a rather beloved figure. When he died in 1985, he was buried inside the basilica.

The bronze sculpture of El Caballero is by the contemporary Cuban artist José Villa Soberón (b. 1950, Santiago de Cuba). His statues of notables such as Ernest Hemingway, Che Guevara, and John Lennon can be found around Havana, but his statute of El Caballero is one of the most popular. Stroking the statue, especially the beard, is said to bring good luck.

Here is the front facade of the Basilica de San Francisco de Asis (Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi).


As you may recall from the history of Plaza Vieja, it was the building of the Franciscan church and monastery at the end of the 16th century that opened up the land that became the Plaza Nueva (New Plaza, which now is the Old Plaza). Construction began in 1580 and was completed in 1591. The original church was rather simpler than the one there today, but it was badly damaged by storms in 1680 and 1692. After a hurricane destroyed the bell tower in 1694, and new building was planned. Most of the old building was torn down shortly after the turn of the century, but the new building was not complete until 1739. At that time, it was Havana’s most important church.

When the British took control of Havana in 1762, they used the church for heretical (to the Roman Catholic Spanish) Anglican services. When Havana was returned to the Spanish in 1763, the church was considered unclean and has been used for secular purposes since then. The building has excellent acoustics, and is frequently used for concerts. It also houses the Museum of Sacred Arts, and the crypt contains the remains of many aristocrats from the 17th and 18th centuries. We’ll see other views of the basilica in future posts as our visit took us to and through the Plaza de San Francisco several times.

What makes this a basilica rather than a church or cathedral? Basically, a church is any house of worship, usually Christian (any denomination). A Cathedral is a major church to which a Bishop is assigned to administer a region (usually a Roman Catholic diocese). A basilica is a church that the Roman Catholic Pope has declared to be of special significance for some reason. The most famous basilica is the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome.

Across from the entrance to the basilica is another of the many art galleries in the area, La Galería Carmen Montilla. There was an interesting view through the door of the gallery.



I am sure there is a story behind these legs. Alas, I will never know what it is. Carmen Montilla Tinoco (1944-2004) was a Venezuelan artist who immigrated to Cuba and was very active in efforts to restore the old city. 

Another side of the Plaza San Francisco is occupied by the Lonja del Comercio (Trade Market).


This is a majestic building with beautiful architectural details all over the facade. The design is roughly Spanish Renaissance, but it is really a rather eclectic, unique mix of styles. It was built in only two years (started in 1907 and opened in March, 1909). It is topped by a statue of Mercury, the Roman god of commerce, which is a replica of an original by the Flemish artist, Jean Boulogne (Giovanni Bologna). Prior to the revolution it was more-or-less Cuba’s Wall Street; the place where stocks and commodities were traded.

After the revolution (1959) it was still used as an office building but, like most places, suffered from neglect and lack of maintenance. The building was gutted in the ’90s and new, modern offices were built throughout. Today it is the home of a Havana radio station, international news organizations, such as the BBC, diplomatic offices and a variety of local and international businesses. Visitors can enter the building during business hours to admire the architecture (I didn’t, but, based on the pictures I’ve seen, you should). There is also an indoor/outdoor restaurant on the top floor named El Mercurio that offers a great view of, you guessed it, the statue of Mercury. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Moving back to the basilica on the other side of the plaza, there is a statue of Friar Junípero Serra with a Juaneño Indian boy.


The future priest was born Miquel Joseph Serra on November 24, 1713 in the town of Petra on the Spanish island of Mallorca. He became a novice at a Franciscan monastery when he was 17 and went on to become an ordained priest and earn a doctorate in theology. Apparently a brilliant man, he also mastered several languages, mathematics, economics and music. In 1749 he was sent to the Americas as a missionary to the “Indians” (native populations). Upon landing at Veracruz on the Gulf coast of what is now Mexico (then part of New Spain), he insisted on following the rules of the Franciscan order and walking the 250 miles to Mexico City rather than riding the horses that had been provided for him.

The good Father went on to establish (or oversee the establishment of) churches and missions from Mexico City through northern Mexico and into what is now Northern California, working as far north as San Francisco. He spent the rest of his life in what would become California. He died at a mission he founded near San Diego when he was 70.

From the perspective of the Roman Catholic Church, Father Serra’s life and work were exemplary. He became known as The Apostle of California and, in 1988, he was declared a saint by Pope John Paul II. From the perspective of some of the decedents of the people he is credited with converting the Christianity, however, he was sometimes cruel and inhumane in his methods. Since this is not a political/sociological/theological blog, I will leave it to interested readers to do the research and decide for themselves how to best characterize his life and work.

Now that you know the basics of who Brother Serra was, you might well ask, “What is his statue doing outside a convent in Havana, Cuba?” The priest never visited there and, as far as I have been able to find, had no connection to Havana or anywhere in Cuba. This sign near the statue provides the best information I have.


The statue is a replica of an original found in the Plaza de San Francisco in Palma, Mallorca, where Father Serra was born. The Iberostar Group is a business started on Mallorca over 100 years ago that is primarily in the hotel and other tourist-related industries. In 2004, they created the Iberostar Foundation, a non-profit company for social, educational and cultural development in Spain and Latin America.

The boy in the statue represents the Juaneño people, an indigenous group who lived in what is now California. Juaneño is the name given to them by the Spanish working out of the Mission San Juan Capistrano which was built to (again depending on your view of the history) to convert, colonize and/or enslave them. They called themselves Acjachemen. The boy represents hundreds of children that Father Serra evangelized in his long career in the future California.

On the side of the Plaza de San Francisco facing the Port of Havana is the Terminal Sierra Maestra, the boat terminal where cruise ships dock as they come into Havana.


One of the issues our Cuban hosts talked about was the challenge of gearing up to handle the influx of thousands of tourists discharged at once from massive cruise ships into the city.

As we passed the terminal and walked along the Malecón toward lunch, I saw what looked like an observatory across the bay.


Observatories are usually built on top of very high mountains in areas of low humidity and far from artificial lights. This minimizes the distortion caused when light from distant objects pass through our atmosphere. This one is on a small hill in the humid, subtropical Caribbean, in the heart of greater Havana. Nevertheless, I was impressed that it was there, as it gives students at the University of Havana to work in a real observatory and develop their skills. They may not discover many new galactic objects or phenomena here (then again, they might), but they will be trained in the skills they need to work in the great observatories around the world.

We passed an iconic image that is near the observatory, El Cristo de la Habana.


Large statues of Christ can be found in many Latin American countries. This one is about 65′ (20 m) tall and can be seen from many places in and around Havana. Jilma Madera, a Cuban sculptor, was commissioned to create the statue in 1953. It is carved from the same Italian Carrara marble as the fountain in the Plaza Vieja (see above). The stone was blessed by Pope Pius XII before it was shipped to Cuba. The statue was dedicated on Christmas Eve in 1958. Castro and his army entered Havana just 15 days later, effectively marking the end of the Cuban Revolution and the beginning of the new regime. 

We also passed a unique bar and restaurant called Club Los Marinos (The Sailors Club).


If you look closely, you can see the National Observatory in the center left of this picture and Cristo de la Habana just left of center. The club is actually a boat that has been permanently docked. Drinks and sandwiches are cheap in the bar where locals dance the night away most every night. The restaurant is quieter and features mostly seafood.

Speaking of food, we finally made it to lunch!


You may remember that we visited El Templete (The Temple), a monument in the Plaza de Armas (Weapons Plaza) earlier in the day (you find the pictures and write up in the previous entry in this series). Restaurante El Templete (The Temple Restaurant) is located less that 50 yards (50 m) from its namesake monument. It was opened in 2004 by Arkaitz Etxarte, a chef from the Basque region in Spain. 

It had been a long morning, and we were more than ready to sit down in the cool shade of the patio and enjoy a meal. To everyone’s delight, a cold Mojito was quickly served.


Local food and drink always seems to taste better in the land where they comes from, and the Mojito is no exception. This refreshing combination of rum, lime, mint and sugar could be called a Rum Sour and added to my list of popular sour cocktails.

The Mojito has seen a huge jump in popularity in the USA in recent years and you may well know how to make it already. However, in case you would like to know a little of the history of the drink and the details of how it is made, here is my go-to cocktail guy, Robert Hess, with almost everything you need to know about the drink.


Later on this trip, we will all go to “Mojito School” and get a chance to make our own, but, at this moment, we were happy just to have one served to us.

Olive oil and balsamic vinegar were on the tables as we sat down, and a basket of bread soon appeared.


Our appetizers were two classics found in tapas bars and other restaurants in every Spanish-speaking country I have visited. The first: Croquetas de Jamón (Ham Croquettes).


This is one of the (altogether too many) dishes that are addicting for me. It is also a dish for which everyone’s mother (mamá) and grandmother (abuela) has the best recipe ever. They are most commonly made with ground or diced ham or chicken, but I have seen them with shrimp, pork, mixtures of different meats and even vegan ham (whatever that is). Variations are endless, but the recipe usually starts with some butter and/or olive oil to sauté some onions and then add flour to make a roux. The roux is then turned into a thick béchamel (white sauce) by whisking in some milk, then it’s well seasoned with herbs and spices that reflect regional differences and the taste of the cook. The cooked meat of choice is mixed in, often, but not always, with cheese of some kind. (The cheese can also be melted into the béchamel, which then becomes a mornay sauce.) The whole mixture is cooled and sets up in a solid mass with a consistency kind of like left over mashed potatoes. (French croquettes are made using mashed potatoes instead of a béchamel sauce—also delicious!) Spoonfuls of the cold mixture are shaped into balls or logs, rolled in flour, then beaten egg, then bread (or cracker) crumbs and fried to a golden brown.

Here is a fairly typical recipe, but I emphasize that there are many, many variations. I have no doubt that las croquetas de su abuela (your grandmother’s croquettes) are the best!


Our second appetizer was one of my favorite tapas, Gambas al Ajillo (Garlic Shrimp).


You can prepare this dish very quickly and easily by just heating some olive oil in a sauté pan, adding some finely chopped garlic (and some red pepper flakes if you like a little heat) and letting it cook for about 60 seconds, then adding raw, peeled shrimp and letting them cook 2-4 minutes, depending on the size often shrimp you use. Garnish with some parley, if you like, and don’t forget the bread to soak up all the oil and juices.

Here is a more detailed recipe that offers some great tips for making this dish as flavorful as possible.


Our entree was some simply prepared fish, potato, and mixed vegetables.


Everything on the plate was cooked properly, but there was not much in the way of seasoning, so it was rather ho-hum.

The desert was much richer: Torta Chocolate con Helado de Vainilla (Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream).


The cake was almost brownie-like and the vanilla ice cream had quite good vanilla flavor and was very creamy.

With that, we’ll end this post and take a little post-lunch siesta, at least figuratively. When we finished lunch, we were off to a giant market of Cuban art and hand made goods. We would return to Plaza de San Francisco for dinner, and then head to the Fortaleza de San Carlos del La Cabaña for the firing of the cannons there. We’ll detail it all in the next entry in this series.

 Take  a few minutes to browse the images in the slideshow. There are many that are not included in the article above.

 The author is a member of the Halleck Vineyard Inner Circle Wine Club and the Amazon Associate program, but otherwise has no affiliation with any of the places, companies, equipment or locations mentioned in the article.

All images were taken with a Sony Alpha a6000 camera and a Sony-Zeiss SEL1670Z Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm (24-105mm full frame equivalent) F/4 ZA OSS lens, Sony SEL1018 10-18mm (15-24mm full frame equivalent) F/4 Wide-Angle Zoom Lens, or Sony 18-200mm (24-300mm full frame equivalent) F/3.5-6.3 E-Mount Lens using ambient light. Post-processing in Adobe Lightroom® and Adobe Photoshop® with Nik/Google plugins. 


  1. Marsha Sices February 1, 2019 at 10:39 am #

    Thank you so much for posting this very detailed and informative account of your travels to Cuba. I recently returned from a similar trip and I know how difficult it is to identify the buildings and research the history behind the memories you bring back via your photos and experiences. Bravo to your excellent efforts! You have been a big help.
    P.S. I am from Chicago too, and a frequent traveler so I look forward to checking out many of your other posts as well…

  2. DavePruett February 1, 2019 at 5:56 pm #

    Thank you Marsha! I am glad the write-up was interesting and useful to you. I am perpetually behind in writing up my travels, but I will keep plugging away!

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