34 – Congri and Cuba

A week ago, Mateja and I were enjoying our last few hours of sunshine under Cuban skies. A week passes, and we’re now back the grind. Gone is the Caribbean weather (not overwhelming in April, but much more pleasant than Vancouver at the moment), as well as the sand, surf, and unlimited piña coladas. Already we’re talking of our next big adventure, not satisfied to simply reminisce for the time being. We’re also not satisfied, however, to simply remember Cuba for its sights and sounds. As this is a food blog, you can probably guess where I’m going with this…

While at our resort, we were quite honestly underwhelmed by the food. We were warned – via online reviews and personal acquaintances – that it wouldn’t be like all-inclusives in other countries, but rather blander and with less options. I honestly figured those critiques to be coming from a place of ultra-high standards, but I was quickly proven otherwise. That being said, when we did learn the ins and outs of our resort’s main dining room (go here, not there; eat this, not that), we were quite satisfied. As well, meals outside of the resort (during excursions to Havana, Matanzas, and the town of Varadero) gave us a tastier, more authentic sampling of Cuban cuisine.

Now home and missing Cuba dearly, I knew that merely uploading and posting a few highlights on Facebook wasn’t going to be enough for me (or us). Wanting more of a full-bodied experience reminiscing (well, eyes AND stomach at least), I decided to make a traditional Cuban dish to include in my year-long cooking/blogging challenge. Of course, I can’t do that without including at least a few pictures showcasing the awesomeness that is Cuba’s natural beauty and awe-inspiring architecture.

The dish I chose to make is called “Congri”, and is essentially beans cooked with rice. Due to food rationing in Cuba, calling rice and beans merely “staples” of the typical Cuban diet is akin to calling Ernesto “Che” Guevara “well-liked”, or a “pretty swell guy”. Though true statements, they by no means express the importance of these things (rice, beans, and Che) to the average Cuban citizen.

I found the recipe for this dish online at, of all places, food.com, titled as “Cuban-Style Red Beans and Rice – Congri Traditional“. Though I changed a few proportions based on what I had readily available (5 slices of bacon, instead of 8; 14 oz kidney beans instead of 16 oz), I otherwise stayed true to what was prescribed. Though quite tasty, the end result needed a bit of extra salt and pepper seasoning. As well, when I make this dish again, I will be cutting down on both the amount of chicken broth added, and time cooked. From those tweaks, I’m sure you can induce my small issues with the dish: the rice was a bit too mushy, and a bit runnier than preferred.

Overall, the dish was a success – measured, of course, by the second helpings Mateja and I both went back for. I served it with the Grilled Mojo Chicken dish I’ve already shared here, and some tomato slices. Thankfully, this time I remembered to include our Havana Club rum, and was able to marinate the meat for nearly a full day (last time was a rum-less 1 1/2 hours of marinating only). The resulting meal was – I’m proud to say – not only a very traditional Cuban dish (though pork over chicken would have made it even more traditional), but also a very delicious one.

Again, I’ve gone deep into a post without much in the way of pictures, so it’s time to make up for that fact. So, without further adieu, here are some of my favourite highlights of Cuba (including, of course, my homemade congri).

First, the food:

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Thick-cut, double-smoked bacon, straight from the butcher. No pre-packaged, single-smoked b.s. for us.
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Is it bad if I want to cook everything in bacon fat? Here we see the green pepper and onion simmering in a small amount of reserved bacon fat, along with a healthy dose of olive oil.
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Spices, tomato paste, and rice added in. Almost time to let it simmer in broth and start on the barbeque.
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Grilling the Mojo Chicken (in daylight, this time). Note the extreme char marks, from when the barbeque started flaming as I left it to go check on the rice. I think I need to remove my grill and clean the interior of my barbeque before my next endeavour with it.
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This photo is primarily just to show off the fact that I finished dinner well before it was dark outside, which is a rarity for me.
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The finished product, garnished with green onions. The highly-charred chicken skin was actually amazing, despite how blackened it appeared, with the marinade providing a strong, sour citrus flavour.
Congri
With dinner made and ready to be consumed, there’s only one thing left to do: pour a Cuba Libre (rum and coke) for my sweetheart and myself.

Now, on to some highlights of Cuba (in no particular order, the good ones taken by my wife, in all likelihood):

pina coladas
They brought me two pina coladas. I tried to keep “one for each hand”, but Mateja said I apparently needed to share.

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Anyways, like the congri, this was just a little taste of Cuba. Please excuse the lack of captions for the photos of Cuba, as this post was starting to take up all of my Saturday. I’m a little late in sharing this, but I’ll be including it in this week’s Fiesta Friday, the blogging party I’ve been joining lately. This week it’s being co-hosted by Juliana @ Foodie on Board and Hilda @ Along the Grapevine, as well as the ever-present Angie over at The Novice Gardener.

Anyways, my wife just made a delicious spaghetti Bolognese that’s awaiting me, so I’ve got to wrap this up. Happy Fiesta Friday, and until next time – happy cooking!

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15 thoughts on “34 – Congri and Cuba

  1. How awesome! I feel like I have just returned from a wonderful trip to Cuba! Your photos are great! I love the congri too! It takes me back to the bonito pays de Cuba! Thanks so much for sharing all of this with the FF gang! 😀

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  2. I really enjoyed seeing your photos of Cuba. I’ve tried to re-create rice and beans after returning from vacations in Central America but haven’t been 100 percent pleased- I’ll have to try your version- the bacon may do the trick 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Josette. I’d say I was 80% satisfied. If you do try this version, I’d highly recommend a bit less time cooking, a bit less liquid, and definitely using more beans. And yes, the bacon is absolutely necessary.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What an amazing country – your photographs really made me want to pack right now 🙂
    I haven’t been to resort since the first time – a cheap one-week-deal to Mallorca from my fist salary. I’m still shuddering at the idea of eating pig’s trotters in sauerkraut – otherwise a lively dish! – at 100F under a palm tree…
    Your Cuban dish looks much more like it!

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    1. I still feel like I didn’t do the country justice with my pictures. I discovered after I posted that I’d left out a lot of gorgeous pictures of the beach that my wife had taken. If you get a chance, I definitely recommend going…so long as you’re okay with subpar food while at whichever resort you end up at.

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  4. I’m so glad you posted on my site, as it reminded me to look out for your post on Cuba and voila, here it is! I’m not sure why it did not show up in my Reader. Love, love, love the cars and the buildings, you’ve captured it all. I can only imagine what the Cuban dishes tasted like over there. It certainly seemed like you both had an amazing time. Your dish you’ve presented looks mouth-wateringly gorgeous :).

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    1. Thank you! Yes, the cars were quite amazing. As they say, necessity is the mother of all invention, and the embargo has forced Cubans to be creative in the way they maintain their vehicles.

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  5. And now I’m intrigued with your blog! I love the way you infuse food and travel together, and your pictures of Cuba are making me crave the sun as we’re hunkering down for a long cold winter here in New Zealand! So glad to have “met” you, have a great day!

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    1. Glad to have “met” you as well. I definitely wish I could infuse more travel and food together, but until the next as-of-yet unplanned vacation, I’ll have to travel simply through ethnic cuisines.

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