Cuba has been famous for its rum since the 1500s. The rum pirates loved and drank so much, was not the same as today’s. Then, it was bitter and with a high percentage of alcohol. Still, they did love to put sugar and few herbs in it. This mixture called draguecito or “little dragon” is probably the ancestor of the famous mojito, one of the most famous Cuban cocktails we enjoy today all over the world.
For those of you who don’t know much about it, here are few details on how to make it. It comes in a big glass, white cane sugar is mixed with lime juice and crushed stem of mint. They add white rum to this and the glass is filled with sparkling mineral water and chopped ice.
And you know where the “temple” of mojito is located? In Havana, of course! So, when you visit Cuba, make sure to come here for a drink, and here’s why.
La Bodeguita del Medio
The famous cafe La Bodeguita del Medio is situated in Habana Vieja (Old Havana). This is a must when you come to Cuba, so when you go to Plaza de la Catedral (more about the Old Havana in one of the next Glimpses), and you stand in front of the Catedral de San Cristobal, you should turn left in Calle Empedrado, and at the halfway point there you will find this legendary restaurant. La Bodeguita del Medio literally means “little shop in the middle”.
The place was founded in 1942 as a food shop. A bar serving alcoholic drinks was added later and the place became a haunt for intellectuals, artists and politicians. Today this is one bustling bar serving shots of rum and Cuban cocktails, along with some typical Creole dishes. The walls are plastered with photographs, drawings, inscriptions, visitor’s autographs, including those of Nat King Cole or Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And Ernest Hemingway, of course, who was a regular here and actually made the place so famous worldwide.
Hemingway as a regular
So, in the previous Glimpse we have covered those Hemingway’s 20 years in Havana and the house he bought in the fishermen’s neighborhood, that is now a popular museum. But, before he got him the Finca La Vigia villa, he was in Cuba for the whole year, in 1939. During that time he stayed at Havana’s hotel the Ambos Mundos, another “must see” in the Old Havana.
One of Hemingway’s passions was rum and he enjoyed Cuban cocktails. Conveniently, his hotel was not far from La Bodeguita del Medio, so he spent a lot of time here drinking mojito. You will find few photos of him accompanied by belated Cuban president Fidel Castro on the wall of the bar, along with his writing saying “My mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in El Floredita”.
Daiquiri in El Floridita
So, my next stop was El Floridita restaurant, of course! The additional reason was that they say that Hemingway actually helped to invent daiquiri, as it is served today.
It’s not hard to find it. You stroll along the popular Calle Obispo, where the Ambos Mundos is, and just keep walking a bit further. Remember that this restaurant was also close to the hotel. Looking from the street, you can immediately see that this is one charming bar.
And when you go in, Hemingway will greet you himself! Actually, there is a life-sized bust of the great novelist, sculpted by Fernando Boada while he was still alive, represented as standing at the bar. As if you can have a drink with the man!
They say that the famous daiquiri cocktail was devised here by barman Constante with the little help of Hemingway in 1930’s. It’s served in chilled cocktail glass. If you are wondering about the daiquiri recipe, here is a hint: white rum is firstly blended, mixed with sugar, maraschino, lime juice and crushed ice.
To tell you the truth I didn’t think about rum that much before Cuba, nor cocktails for that matter. But when in Cuba you just have to try them and I was pleasantly surprised that drinks are soft, with low percentage of alcohol, tasty, refreshing.
I read somewhere that rum was in use here ever since the 1500s when an impure distillate was first obtained from sugar cane. It was popular among pirates and in the 1920’s, during American Prohibition, Cuba – which has become “off limits” paradise for drinkers – developed and refined early cocktails and created others. One of those, we probably all heard of, is Cuba Libre (meaning “free Cuba”) made from rum and Coca-Cola mixed with ice and lime juice.
One of the obligatory stops related to rum was also the Fundacion Destileria Havana Club. (Keep in mind that Havana Club is not the only brand of rum, although it is the most popular among foreign tourists. Locals usually drink other brands.) Here you will learn everything about distillation, oak barrels, and different types of rum. Silver Dry rum is often used in cocktails while the old rum is supposed to be drank neat…
You see how rum is truly a Cuban tradition, part of everyday life. And what better place to have a glass of that refreshing cocktail than – at the beach. That’s where we’re heading next!
The full Cuba SERIES