Providing Three Meals a Day Is Difficult but Cubans’ Obsession with Bread, Even if Low-Quality, Makes It Easier

Though the baker sells several varieties, only garlic bread was for sale on Thursday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 29 October 2021 — A long line of people waited outside the bakery on Carlos III Avenue to buy garlic bread, the only kind for sale on Thursday morning. The cost was 6 pesos each, limited to ten a customer.

“Like public transportation, this bakery has odd hours. I try to get here early to avoid the crowd,” says one customer seated on a small stool she brought from home. Meanwhile, an employee controls the flow of people entering the shop, allowing only two in at a time.

I really like the garlic bread because it saves me having to add my own oil and garlic. We eat it just by itself,” adds the customer.

“Garlic? No way! I mean, it’s edible but no garlic has ever been near that bread,” responds another customer, eliciting laughter from those around her.

The bakery sells other breads, such as sandwich bread for 25 pesos, but there is not much demand for it. There is also the popular barrita, a top seller due to its low price of 5 pesos. There is always a selection but, when supplies run out, customers can wait as long as thirty minutes to an hour before a new batch arrives.

When supplies run out, the wait can last from thirty minutes to an hour before a new batch is ready. (14ymedio)

Wheat flour has been in such short supply that in May bakeries began using corn flour as a substitute. Recently, long lines have started wrapping around bakeries and police have had to intervene after arguments and fights broke out. Though the situation improved somewhat over the summer, the bakery in Carlos III is still not back to the kind of normality that perhaps no longer exists in Cuba: being able to buy something without having to wait in a long line under a blazing sun.

Cubans are obsessed with bread in part because it serves as a substitute for many other foods that have been disappearing from their tables. Bread with oil, bread with mayonnaise, bread with guayaba jam and many other such combinations have become a way to get by between meals or now serve as substitutes for traditional dishes made with rice, beans and meat.

Bread made from refined flour ends up in a school backpacks as part of a between-class snack and as a replacement for the tasteless hospital food served to patients in hospitals. Fervent consumers will flock to wherever it is being sold, especially if the price is lower than for bread made from elaborate recipes at privately owned bakeries


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