At 140 Pesos a Bunch, the Price of Carrots on the Streets of Havana Has Doubled in One Year

A “mountain” of carrots on Valle Street, near Trillo Park in Central Havana, on Saturday / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, March 30, 2024 — On Saturday morning a man leaned over a mountain of carrots placed on Valle Street, near Trillo Park in Central Havana. At 140 pesos a bunch, the price was slightly lower than what the city’s private vendors were charging but far from the 70 pesos that was the going rate in the same spot in late March 2023, or the 80 pesos at the market on 19th and B streets in Vedado, based on weekly figures compiled by 14ymedio. Known jokingly as “La Boutique,” the market on 19th and B streets can induce approach-avoidance conflict in Havana residents. It is common knowledge that, within its perimeter, you can find not only the highest produce prices in the city but also best quality and widest variety of merchandise, a stark contrast to the many stunted cassavas and sickly tomatoes for sale at other private markets and state-run establishments.

Fruits such as soursop and star apple, which are never seen in other stores, can frequently be found at La Boutique. Plastic shopping bags here are in short supply but can be had if you are willing to pay extra for them. Domestically grown grapes, mameyes for smoothies and tamarind paste stand ready to go into a refreshing juice drink. Imported heads of garlic, with cloves four times the size of the local variety, are among the items for sale here.

Nearby, there is no shortage of unlicensed vendors selling lobsters, shrimp and a wide variety of fish filets. There is also an abundance of drivers, ready to deliver a client’s purchases to his or her door, as well as currency exchangers who can swap out a bagfull of Cuban bills for a hundred dollars. In the midst of this vibrant and varied marketplace, it is the carrots that stand out. Clean, almost shiny, and without a trace of their leafy tops. Of course, their price might be double those found in the pushcarts and tiny public squares of the poorest neighborhoods.

Evolution of carrot prices from March 2023 until today / 14ymedio

This week, the price of carrots at 19th and B streets approached 150 pesos a bunch, almost double what it was a year ago but nowhere near the shocking peak of 600 pesos in October 2023. Though healthy and versatile, the carrot is not often used in everyday Cuban cooking, where vegetables, generally speaking, do not play a big role or are served only in small portions. Though demand for tomatoes grows in the cooler months and the avocado is king of the table in summer, the carrot — a root vegetable rich in beta-carotene, vitamin A and antioxidants — does not enjoy the same popularity.

During the toughest years of the Special Period, Cubans devised recipes that substituted carrots for the food items that were not available. This is how the “candy coquito” was born. Grated carrots were used instead of wheat flour in puddings while the fruits that normally went into guava or mango jams were exchanged for this hardy tuber. Perhaps this is why many diners associate carrots with the hardships of that crisis as well as those of the current one.

For those who like the vegetable, however, its price might discourage them from buying it as often as they did before. The cost of four bunches of carrots at La Boutique is almost equivalent of a quarter of the monthly minimum wage and close to half of a Cuban retiree’s very small but very common 1,400-peso pension

That is also why, on Saturday, those who prefer to save a little went to the open-air market near Trillo Park, even though the merchandise was covered in dirt and lying on the ground as if it were garbage. They are ten pesos a bunch cheaper than those at 19th and B, which is not much. But if you do not watch what you spend, peso by peso, buying food can become impossible. For many Cubans, there is a red line that they dare not cross when it comes to expenses, even if that means eating much worse. That line is sometimes an intense carrot color.


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