Anthony Bourdain Talks Cuba
Had you been to Cuba before filming this episode of No Reservations? If so, are there any changes you noticed?
AB: No. I’d never been to Cuba before this trip, but it’s been an ambition for some time.
What drew you to Cuba? How would you describe the experience you had there?
AB: It’s hard to know the true meaning of what I saw and experienced in Cuba as people are still guarded about what they say. The country is clearly headed for some major changes in the very near future. Everybody seems to be holding their breath with anticipation, not knowing what comes next and how events will unfold.
Personally, I’ll be fascinated to see if with the inevitable changes – positive ones, like freedom of the press, freedom of speech, connection to the rest of the world, freedom to leave, to move around internally more easily – the country loses some of the uniquely good things like the unspoiled (if run down and crumbling) beauty of Havana. Or, the joy of pure baseball and the cars. I’d hate to see Havana look like Miami in a few years.
Did anything about the country surprise you?
AB: First off, the beauty of the place was thrilling. I was surprised by how frank and open people were with me – mostly off camera, but sometimes on. The kindness, pride, humor and generosity of the people everywhere, plus their curiosity about the outside world and engagement was compelling. And, the cleverness of the official tourism people – the fact that they recognized what visitors look for in Cuba and that the renovations they are doing are so often respectful of the original structures. Few societies I’ve seen – particularly communist ones – are so discerning.
Give us one reason we must visit Cuba. And, are there any sites or restaurants we have to hit?
AB: The people of Cuba are the best feature. They’ve had a tough time of it. Life has been hard for a very, very long time. Just to get by, to eat, to raise a family requires seriously shrewd improvisations and a lot of work. That they’ve managed to retain a sense of humor after 50 years of food rationing is amazing.
As far as restaurants, there are restaurants for tourists and government types, and then there’s what Cubans eat – which is pretty simple at best. Average Cubans could never afford to eat in any of the lavishly restored restaurants for the tourist trades, as even the government readily admits. But at every income level, the “sleeping beans” are awesome.
Speaking of food, what was the most memorable dish you ate there? Can it even compare to the Cuban food we have stateside?
AB: Meat is a luxury. So there no way to fairly compare what the average Cuban cooks and what we take for granted. But like any great cooking culture, they do a lot with a little.
— Anthony Bourdain