A white guy walks into a Cuban bodega…
It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but for thousands of Southern flocking Gringo northerners – and plenty of non-Cuban Latinos that venture to America’s nethers – that reality happens on a daily basis. But as much as a British-style Gastropub would drive my abuela completely insane, for some out-of-towners the Cuban bodega is a place of horror and missed delectables.
Maybe it’s the fear of mispronouncing something so easy as a cortadito, or ordering something that is made from the chicken the Santera priest sacrificed last night. Either way, tell your gringo friends to have no fear: ordering breakfast from a Cuban bodega is not quite as hard as one may think.
Take a walk up to the counter, or be truly authentic and hit the street side window, grab a paper cone full of water, and get ready to order.
Cuban coffee is not only as addictive as crack-cocaine, but scientists have recently discovered that the molecular structure of Cuban coffee is actually remarkably similar to crack-cocaine. ( But there is enough of a difference that entire city neighborhoods won’t turn into ghettos.)
Get familiar with Cuban coffee brands on a first name basis: Cafe Bustelo, Pilon, or La Llave. And to ensure the best quality of cafe, make sure the lady behind the counter manning the espresso machine is at least 73 years old.
Cafecito – the seed of the entire Cuban coffee industry. This is just a small shot of Cafe Cubano, no thrills. It’s like taking a shot of tequila, except it’s not absolutely disgusting and there will only be a productive morning of work, not a night ended with finding unique places to leave vomit.
Colada – how to make a single cafecito better? Put it together like 5 more. In every single Miami office around three o’clock in the afternoon, there will be an overweight middle-aged lady walking around with a handful of small plastic shot cups in one hand and a medium sized Styrofoam cup in the other. She will dole out shots of cafecity among the office staff along with complaining about one of the following: her feet, the boss, or your singledom and/or lack of child.
Cortadito – literally meaning “small cut,” for cutting cafe with a bit of milk. If Cuba were to be prouder of it’s Cafe heritage, a cortadito would be smack dab in the middle of it’s flag. That or a broken down 1952 Ford Maquina.
Cafe con Leche – take something that causes a lot of heart burn, cafecito, and throw in a whole bunch of heated milk, and what’s left? A cafe latte! No. What’s the difference between the Italian version coffee with milk and a cafe con leche? About three pounds of sugar a cup. Sweet.
Fashionable low-calorie, low-fat diets have made absolutely no dent on the typical Cuban menu. And that’s a good thing! There’s a reason why Cuban woman’s asses are world renowned and it’s not because they don’t do side bends or sit-ups. They pile tons and tons of empty calories right on those child bearing hips producing absolute majesty.
Tostada – bread made from lard. No, that is not a joke. Cuban toast, or a tostada, is made by taking Cuban bread (did I mention that it was made from lard?) lathering it up with a scrumptious amount of butter (on top of lard bread!) and putting in a Panini press. The product is the fattiest, greasiest, and most carboholic piece of bread ever created. Dip the toast in a Cafe con Leche for extra cool points with the part-time carpenters and tile layers that will probably be hanging out at the window also.
Pastelito – Cubans don’t mess around with their breakfast breads, the pastelito being no exception. Most normal human beings would think a pastelito would be an after dinner desert, but couple this filled pastry with a Cafe con Leche or Cortadito and it will be like eating in heaven. Literally. Eat these with enough regularity and a heart attack will put anyone in heaven from a heart attack in three years.
Typically pastelitos are filled with guayaba, aka guava, queso, aka cream cheese, or a combination of the two. But, the truly scintillating part of this treat is the flaky bread. I’m convinced that the day a doughnut gets wrapped in flaky bread it would mark the beginning of the apocalypse.
Desayuno Completo – if a bodega is really generous they’ll load this breakfast with a toastada, cafe con leche, and eggs with ham, onions, and potatoes. For most families this is the staple of every Sunday morning breakfast after attending mass. While it’s hard to estimate the aggregate caloric count on this meal, it may very well count in the millions.
While a Cuban bodega may appear to have a short menu, many will find themselves agonizing over the many possible combinations. Personal favorites include a toastada, pastelito guayaba y queso, and a super sweet cafe con leche. No matter what you end up ordering, remember to do it with confidence, and never, ever, ever pronounce the h or ask if they can “put the ham on the side.”
Wily veteran of the Miami music scene, Ric Delgado has spent nearly 10 years creating local fanzines and weblogs dedicated to the tiny niche of Miami culture that isn’t found on South Beach. Currently a freelance pop-culture and music blogger for Miami New Times, his former projects include REVMiami.com, Unite Magazine, and UnScene Zine. Ric trolls the dark and smokey underworld of Miami music venues having painfully long conversations about Captain N and the Game Masters, steamed dim-sum jellyfish, and how his musical life ended in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @RicDelgadoRocks or visit his blog Crevices of a Fruit Cake.