Facing, But So Far From, The Sea / Jorge Ortega Celaya

To my knowledge never before were the themes of food and dining so fashionable in all types of publications. Even in the latest issue of the journal Voices an article of this kind appears, although the writer addresses some issues in a somewhat superficial way.

Obviously the author of the lines mentioned shares with me a taste for seafood and shellfish, gifts to the palate and the sea offers up the raw materials used by chefs around the globe. The article is based on an analysis of the alleged indifference of the Cuban people to consuming products from the sea, the author’s perplexity that there are not examples of seafood among the most famous Cuban dishes and the irony of being surrounded by water and not bringing fish to the table.

First of all, I do not share the idea that we Cubans are indifferent to good fish and exotic crustaceans, the hottest restaurants in Havana have always featured a number of specialties in these foods, La Divina Pastora,  Don Cangrejo, Puerto de Sagua and other places that are more or less successful attempt to market their offerings, so their countrymen no longer need go to the Floridita to savor a Lobster thermidor, nor is it that they prefer the vulgar hot dog. Economic constraints are the reason that sites like this have few domestic customers, and so should never be a meter of the tastes of a people.

It’s the same with fish; the seafood establishments, the only sites authorized to market the products of yore, hardly ever have specimens that have spent centuries in the freezer, and at exorbitant prices, not at all affordable to the average Cuban, or perhaps you can find shrimp grown in captivity, of course of bland flavor.

In my case I wouldn’t think of buying a grouper one of those businesses, nor acquiring a fat sea bream hooked in the warm waters off Chivo beach, fish for some of the adventurers with cameras and fins that abound along the capital’s coastline. Third and 70th? Palco? Certainly I would not suggest to you to acquire your fish there, no further comment.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the article to me is when he says that seafood is bland and requires a lot of seasoning, something that puts it further outside popular preferences. Allow me to recall some of the nonsense that illustrates how easy and convenient it is to prepare the tributes of Neptune: With just egg whites and salt you can cover a whole snapper and bake it, and it is delicious when the salt crust is removed. Any fish filet or lobster tail can be spectacular on the grill or barbecue, with just salt, pepper, and a touch of butter. Garlic shrimp are also simple and complex plates include lobster thermidor, which I mentioned before, which has fallen into disuse, particularly the infamous lobster made with coffee and other preparations along this line.

It is not complex to cook seafood and shellfish, gentlemen, if you follow the basic rules such as sealing the pieces at high heat and avoiding drying them out by overcooking. I agree with the Voices contributor that Cuban tables should enjoy the presence of other foods much more often, but I don’t think it’s the indifference of my compatriots that is the reason for the exile of snapper and lobster from our kitchens.