Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Baba Lu and Blue Suede Shoes: Cuban Food comes to Jackson!

Several years ago I had the opportunity to go to Miami. While there, a friend took me into a community known as 'Little Havana'. Little Havana is a neighborhood that is home to many Cuban Americans. The neighborhood is a bustling community filled with cigar shops, cultural centers and restaurants. As we began to walk through the streets of Little Havana, I would see images that reminded me of something I would see on a postcard. Little elderly men smoking cigars played checkers outside of cafes where chickens roasted on spits. The sound of Cuban Rumba music playing from windows of brightly colored houses played as soundtracks to accompany the smells of Cuban dishes being cooked in open kitchens.

My friend Rafael who was born in Cuba tells me " I am going to take you to eat the real deal". I tell him, " please no touristy food. I want to eat what you eat when you come here". He guides me down through rows of shops until we stop at a little cafe. We sit down at a wooden picnic table and he goes up to the window of the cafe and orders. He returns to the table with two heaping plates of food.

I look down to see a mouth watering plate of Cuban shredded beef called 'Ropa Vieja, fried plantains and black beans and rice. He also sat down a small carafe of strong scented Cuban coffee. The beef was unbelievable, filled with peppers, onions, garlic and sofrito. The fried plantains were a nice salty starch that were dipped into a mojo sauce. Lastly the beans and rice were mixed together with onion, garlic and bay leaf to form a dish known as 'Congri'. The food was so good and the ingredients so well put together that I have 'jonesed' for authentic Cuban food for years now.

Thankfully, my wait is over!

Cuban born Marachi Fraga and her daughter Alana Lagares and her husband Hector have enjoyed preserving and cooking family recipes for several years. In Spring of 2013, the family decided to bless West Tennessee by offering authentic Cuban cuisine to the Jackson Tennessee area. 'La Cubanita' is the family's food truck business thats creating a big stir among the West Tennessee foodie community.

La Cubanita offers classic Cuban dishes like homemade empanadas. Created originally in Spain, the empanada is a stuffed pastry filled with slow cooked chicken or seasoned beef. Picadillo empanadas are true Cuban comfort food. The pastry is filled with ground beef seasoned with onions, peppers, green olives and tomato sauce. La Cubanita also makes empanadas with chicken fricase, a mixture of chicken sauteed in Cuban sofrito, spices, green olives, tomato sauce and white wine. The mixture is placed in the pastry and fried. They are so good and usually sell within a few hours.

La Cubanita also makes fantastic Tostones. Tostones are twice fried plantains. Ripened plantains are cut up and fried.  The plantains are lightly salted and the traditional Cuban mojo (mo-ho) sauce is used as a dipping sauce. Mojo is made with orange juice, garlic, cumin and black pepper. It is used as a dipping sauce and to marinate pork and chicken in many Cuban recipes.

Ham croquettes are also served by La Cubanita. Known as 'Croquetas de Jamon', these tiny bites of heaven are made by taking smoked ham and combining it with nutmeg, milk and flour and rolling them in bread crumbs. The tiny snacks are then deep fried to a golden brown. Many Cuban families will cook these for children and serve them at birthday parties.

And just so Southerners don't feel left out, La Cubanita offers two items that include frying and pork. (Two staples of the Southern diet) They serve the classic Cuban dish 'Pan con Lechon' which is slow roasted pork marinated in garlic, orange juice, onions, oregano and black pepper. Typically served at Christmas in Cuban communities,  think of it as Cuban barbecue. Wonderful stuff!

Lastly, my favorite food item at La Cubanita is 'Chicharrones de pollo'. (I almost cannot write this without my mouth watering!) Imagine if you will, taking your grandmother's fried chicken and taking the skin off of it. Now deep fry that skin after marinating it in Cuban spices. HOLY SMOKE...They could be on the list of the best things I have ever eaten. Crunchy golden goodness that crunches in your mouth. OMG...what a flavor!

La Cubanita is set up at the West Tennessee Farmer's Market on Saturday's from 8:30 a.m. till they sell out. They are also set up at various locations in Jackson including Old Medina Market at 2800 Old Medina Rd in Jackson.

Check out their locations and stops at :

And in honor of La Cubanita being the first Cuban restaurant in Jackson Tennessee, I'd like to offer up a little Buena Vista Social Club...

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