Central Havana, Scruffy But Lovely

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Central Havana is my favorite part of the city. It is less touristic, little bit dirty but with a real cuban ambiance. Peso-restaurants with super-cheap food, fresh juices for 1 peso on the street, houses with opened doors, children playing football on the streets, people living daily life…

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I like to walk without a goal. I fall in love with Central Havana, scruffy, full of strong mixture of smells of cheap gasoline, rotting trash, pizza’s and sun-heated streets and walls. People smiled and greeted me.

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I went to one of the churches. I was immediately followed by the “guide”, whose services included only the fact that he looked in the same direction as I did and exclaimed “Beautiful, right?”.

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There are two currencies in Cuba – CUC and CUP. The first one was created for tourists, 1 CUC = 1 $ or 25 CUP. In Old Havana all restaurants write prices in CUC. The second currency is CUP, or peso, that what locals use.

In Central Havana (and Old Havana also but you need to spend some time for searching), you can easily find peso restaurants for the locals. There is no special sign on it, but you will see it easily because it always crowded by cubans.
Menu is written on the wall behind.

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In some of them there is no tables and chairs. You order your lunch and sit nearby on the stairs or on the ground. At this fast-food places you can find delicious freshly squeezed mango or guarawa juice for 2-3 peso ( 10-15 cents), pizza or spaghetti with cheese and jamon for 12-17 pesos (less than a dollar). Don’t expect italian pasta here. However it is quite tasty and will fill you up for very cheap.

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For breakfast they make sandwiches with omelet or burger with a cutlet for 5-8 pesos.

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For dinner, you can find a peso restaurant. Usually it’s a room with a fan, and you can eat chicken or beef with rice and black beans, a big burger with a good piece of meat, cheese and salad inside, for garnish – boiled bananas or tamal. This dish will cost you 30-35 pesos, a little more than a dollar.

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Thats all about cuban peso – food. They eat here very simply. I won’t say that cuban cuisine is my favorite, but I really liked tamal, ice cream at Coppelia (everyone knows about it in Havana) and all this fresh juices that we drank like hundred glasses a day. The rest… well, I wasn’t starving, so what can I ask more?)

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I have a tradition to try coffee everywhere I go. I did it also at the peso restaurants, to know, what average people imagine when they talk about coffee. Of course, I could get it for few bucks at the good place but if I decided do everything like locals – well, this rule should works with coffee, too.

The price was about 1-2 pesos. They make this coffee in a large bucket and mix it with sugar. Then they put just a little, in the manner of espresso, on the bottom of the cup. It tastes slightly like Vietnamese cheapest coffee. Cubans are not coffee-lovers. It was fun to try ones but I decided to keep coffee-free diet for a week until I will get to Colombia.

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They grow coffee on the island, on Sierra Maestro region. Most of the coffee going for export. Most popular brand is Serrano and Cubita, but you hardly will find it in the shops (only souvenir places). Locals drink another kind of coffee called Hola or other cheap-cheap stuff. Situation is similar to the tea-kingdoms like Sri Lanka or China where you rarely get good tea because everything is going for export.

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