Cubans have been dreaming a lot this last year. After more than 50 years of political stalemate, US President Obama and Cuba’s President Raúl Castro agreed to a thaw, ushering in a period of normalisation of the relationship between these two neighbours on either side of the Florida straits. The former foes have struck a new deal and Cuba is on the verge of change. Raúl Castro kickstarted the sickly Cuban economy in late 2010 and permitted greater private enterprise within Cuba’s socialist paradigm. This new lease of life has transformed the dining, shopping and the accommodation experience, in particular.
When I first visited Cuba in the late 1990s, Cuba was a culinary backwater; there was scarcely a vegetable in sight. Fast forward to 2015 and private restaurants (known as paladares) are flourishing in many cities, popular beach resorts and nature havens. Inside the 1914 home of chef Carlos Cristóbal Márquez Valdés, who has worked in kitchens around the world, the walls are adorned with gorgeous art nouveau tiles, old album sleeves and black and white photos. Diners at his Paladar San Cristóbal sit down to tuck into steak, grilled snapper, ceviche, plump salads, a banana liqueur tipple and a cigar for every diner.