14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 23 November 2021 — “Pork leg imported from the United States, ideal for Christmas dinners,” reads the ad on one of the many digital sites that promotes products for Cuban migrants to buy for their relatives on the island. This year the popularly called “national mammal” will come from abroad in the face of the collapse of local production.
Just as Cubans said goodbye to nougats, grapes and cider to see in the new year, this time it is the turn of the traditional pig on December 31 to say goodbye. The fall in supply and the rise in the price of meat means that many families will choose to make a meal with chicken or minced meat on those dates.
El Pana, a private producer from Alquízar, assures that “this could be seen coming.” With a large clientele – which included private restaurants and rental houses – the entrepreneur has been offering “not a single rib” for more than a year, he explains to 14ymedio. Although the closure of Havana’s borders due to the pandemic hit his business hard, the reason for the decline points the other way.
“The guajiros stopped breeding and the females that had to be put on for the mount a few months ago did not put on,” laments the merchant. “This is a chain and when it is interrupted it becomes a problem to start breeding again,” he details. “For two years, when the lack of feed made it more and more difficult to keep the animals, there were producers who left the business and who no longer want to return.”
“I myself took apart the corral, and the irons that I was using to hold the fences, I used them in something else. The people who live near me did the same, and now they would almost have to start from scratch, so I don’t think the lack of pig is going to be fixed soon, this is going to take a long time to get back to how it was before.”
The chain El Pana is talking about also includes sausage producers, food outlets that based their menu on pork steak or fried dough, as well as all those that offered spices, citrus fruits and charcoal for seasoning and cooking ” the pig of 31,” as it is also popularly called.
Before, a sign in the agricultural market on the street, located near Collado, in the Havana neighborhood of El Cerro, said “good charcoal is sold for your piglet”, but it had to be changed and now it promotes the product for cooking “pollón” because, it jokes , “the piglet is lost and fleshy.” Among the customers who stopped in front of the ad, there was no shortage of ironies about the possibility that even the chicken (pollo) will disappear in the coming weeks.
“Soon it will be for the mincemeat, because the chicken is also being lost,” lamented a young man who claims to have seen more assortment in the market compared to other weeks, although it was fundamentally a greater supply of roots, vegetables and fruits, as the precious pork keeps coming in drippings and there are days when it doesn’t even show up.
“I bought a pound of pork steak for 200 pesos; if they had told me a few years ago, I would have believed it was a lie,” another Central Havana neighbor told this newspaper. “December has not started and the pig is already very expensive and missing. Before, this happened to people who left it for the end, those who were late in buying and wanted to have their leg in the last week.”
However, the woman believes, “now it is not even worth being cautious because since the beginning of the year the pig has been very expensive.” Her family will opt “for another meat, preferably chicken or mutton, if it appears.”
While in other countries it is customary to eat a turkey or roast a lamb, the star of Cuban Christmas is the pig. Along with black beans, rice and yuca with mojo, the pork dominates the tables. With its preparations, it also generates several family rituals, such as cutting the shoulder, frying the chicharones and preparing the mojo (marinade) for the meat.
“Chicharrones can also be made with the skin of the chicken,” says a clever family man who is already preparing for the change. “I’m not going to wear myself out looking for a piece of pork, now all my energy is going to go to see if instead of chicken drumsticks I can at least buy my family some breasts.”
But the breast is one of the pieces least likely to appear in the markets in Cuban pesos. “In foreign currency stores, people sleep in line all night to buy a box of breasts and those who have family outside buy it online,” he laments. “But I’m going to look for it even under the stones.”
“The trick is to cook it in the oven and put a piece of charcoal next to it,” he recommends, resigned. “Nothing to envy the roast suckling pig.”
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