“Completas” Cafes / Fernando Damaso

clip_image0021In the city new, privately owned restaurants and cafes are constantly opening up. They charge in convertible pesos (CUC) or—more often in the case of the latter—in their equivalentin pesos (CUP)*. Naturally, because salaries are low, most citizens cannot visit them regularly since buying something there would cost more than an entire day’s wages, and sometimes much more.

Concurrently, some cafes—pale imitations of our old inns—have opened which, for prices lower than the aforementioned (though still high for the average citizen), offer lunches called completas consisting of a meat, chicken or fish dish of some sort, rice with beans orcongrí, a vegetable and a seasonal salad. Some also offer a selection of pizzas and roast beef sandwiches or hamburgers, as well as a few lesser items.

clip_image004Although for most citizensthey do not solve the problem of food, which is no longer provided at their workplaces, for some they do offer a reliable spot where they can have a well-prepared meal. And if there is one thing at which they excel, it is their wonderful home-style dishes.

It is true that service is basic—a fork or spoon, in some cases a knife, served at a bar or stand-up counter, or seated in a wall opening, inside a car or sitting on the hood. Beverages include bottled water or canned soft drinks now that unpackaged beverages are banned out of health concerns over the threat of cholera. A full meal costs about 40 CUP or so, less than 2 CUC, without drinks.

Nevertheless, the attention from staff can be wonderful. Often a certain relationship develops with the servers, and even with the cook, who comes to know each customer’s completa preferences, and keeps them in mind at serving time. A small family business, in which a regular customer comes to be a part of it, could develop, improve and even turn into the old Cuban inn of long ago if it is not held back by ridiculous rules and regulations.

Translator’s note: Cuba has two currenciesthe convertible peso (CUC), which is pegged at roughly 1.10 to the US dollar, and the peso (CUP), in which workers’ salaries are paid. The salary for the average Cuban worker is equivalent to about $20 per month.

February 8 2013