I first learned about Cuban food as a young child: My Aunt Mildred and her husband Al, who worked for an American company, lived a golden life on the island until Fidel Castro’s revolution brought them back to the United States in 1959. They returned with exotic dishes like black bean soup, arroz con pollo (rice and chicken), and picadillo, a wonder of lightly spiced ground beef with olives and raisins.
The Jewish connection to Cuba started with three conversos who sailed with Christopher Columbus on the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. But an established Jewish community did not form there until after the Spanish American War in 1898; a Reform synagogue opened a few years later. The 20th century brought many Jews fleeing Eastern Europe who could not get visas for the United States. Before the revolution, there were about 15,000 Jews in Havana; today there are fewer than 1,500.
Many of those who left settled in Miami, where I have visited many so-called “Jewbans”—Jewish Cubans. There I tasted more of the dishes that bring together Jewish cuisine with Cuban flavors: boniato (white sweet potato) latkes (before they were trendy!), chicken adobo with mojo, and a most delicious mandelbrot with guava filling (recipe here).
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