In Cuba the Lowly Cucumber Is Becoming More Expensive Every Day

One of the cheapest vegetables in produce markets has gone from 50 to 300 pesos in the span of a year.

This week, cucumbers at the produce market at 19th and B streets in Havana’s Vedado district rose to 300 pesos a pound. / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, May 26, 2024 — Appreciated by some and disdained by others, the cucumber can cause a pitched battle at the dinner table if there are any of its staunch detractors are there. But, until recently, it mostly went unnoticed. And then its price spiked.

This week, cucumbers in the produce market at 19th and B streets in Havana’s Vedado district rose to 300 pesos a pound. Available in medium and large sizes, the shiny specimens on display at one of the best stocked markets in the Cuban capital garner attention for reasons other than their attractive presentation. “I don’t know if I’m here or in Dubai, because, at this price, it doesn’t seem like we’re in Cuba,” a customer complained on Friday.

“I don’t know if I’m here or in Dubai, because, at this price, it doesn’t seem like we’re in Cuba,” a customer complained on Friday

Just a year ago, the price of cucumbers at this same market was 50 pesos a pound. Why is it that it now costs six times more than it did just twelve months ago? The answer points to the country’s pervasive inflation, which has raised the cost of living, especially food. “With the price of vegetables these days, you can’t afford to eat healthy,” says the woman.

“In the past I’ve bought tomatoes when they were in season. And at my house we really like avocados in the summer. But lately I’ve been switching over to cucumbers because for me, they’re a better deal.” According to this consumer, they offer some practical advantages that make cooking easier. “They last a long time if you store them properly in the refrigerator. You can cut off one piece to make a salad and save the rest for another meal.”

Still, the cucumber has ardent opponents in virtually every home. “My son doesn’t like it because he says it gives him digestion problems,” the woman admits. “My grandmother showed me how to avoid this by first cutting off the ends and rubbing them against the cucumber. You also have make some grooves in it with a fork,” she explains.

Along with sweet potato and pumpkin — the most complete and cheapest food items provided by many private businesses — the cucumber is the item most often left uneaten on dining hall trays and in cardboard boxes. While diners are quick to devour “congris,” the very thin pork cutlet that looks like it was cut with a laser rather than a knife, they disdain the slices of the squash with the very white seeds.

Graphic showing the cost of cucumbers in the produce market at the corner of 19th and B streets in Havana’s Vedado district / 14ymedio

Though they may avoid it when it shows up on their plates, many people use it on their faces, prepare concoctions with it to hydrate their skin, or put it in pitchers of water to drink when dieting. Self-care has elevated it to the category of a miracle drug that both removes bags under the eyes and makes dull hair shiny.

“I buy it for my mother but nobody else in my house will eat it,” admits a young man who has just paid 370 pesos for three cucumbers at the market known as La Boutique. “You can’t buy tomatoes because they’re very bad at this time of year, lettuce and chard season is already over and avocados are just starting to come to market so the price is sky-high. All that’s left is the cucumber.”

“My mom sometimes makes pickles. Recently she has been obsessed with the idea that we have to prepare food that doesn’t require refrigeration because, with these power outages, everything spoils,” the young man says. “I don’t like it, because when I was I was at school they gave it to me in the morning and in the afternoon. But I will eat it in a pinch.” He adds, of course, he prefers it with some oil, vinegar. “And if you can put a few slices of onion on top, even better.”

Without even trying, the young man has assembled a list of ingredients that would now cost any Cuban home in the three figures to prepare. A dish worthy of someone on a Dubai budget.


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