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Anthony Bourdain in Havana: The Truths He Missed

(Chickens mi tia hustled up for us to eat during our visit in 1999)

By now I’m sure you’ve been religiously watching the 7th season of the vastly popular Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. This season [promises to be] filled with lovely landscapes of many countries I’d love to visit and do what I do best: eat and talk (and wear high heels!).

The season premiere, set in in Cuba, was no different than his previous episodes for which he’s clutched himself  well-deserved Emmys. They’ve all been  catchy, engaging and excellently produced. Each installment, cleverly shot, leaves you wanting to go and experience the place for yourself. If like me (and my dad), you actually want Bourdain’s job!

It came as no surprise then that he’d finally make it to Havana, of all places. The forbidden pearl of the Caribbean. From a success POV, it makes TV sense: unbreakable regime, abhorred  dictatorship to many, inaccessible island to most and glorious to so many others.  Those elements translate into high ratings.

As the show aired, my family and I watched it together bi-coastly in high hopes of Anthony accurately illustrating the island, more specifically, our home city that is torn apart in so many ways. For the sake of not belaboring points already highlighted by my father in his review of the show, I’ll be more frank. But before I do that, I would love to thank those who read my dad’s piece. I liked how he penned his thoughts and am grateful for the response all of you gave him.

Papi made sense. But he was far too kind to Mr. Bourdain. Don’t get me wrong, ‘No Reservations’ is my favorite food and travel show. Hands down. As for my father’s recap, I recognize he has a more intimate connection to Cuba. After all, he was 29 when he left. I was barely 2. But our passionate feelings for the island aren’t watered down by generational gaps or a disparity in our respective luxuries. Rather, we share the same ardent emotions but express them in our own personal ways colored by our individual experiences.

My father hasn’t been to Cuba in over 30 years. I was there 10 years ago for the second time. And truthfully, my personal encounter and experiences in Havana were nothing like Anthony portrayed.

(A street I walked for two weeks during a visit. My tia’s street in Cojimar, c. 2007)

So I have to ask, what is the truth? And why did Bourdain shy away from showing Cuba for what it really is? One of the commenters in the first installment of our assessment hit it spot on when she noted that Bourdain is usually very outspoken and open about the realities of the cities he  jaunts.  If you’re a regular viewer of ‘No Reservations,’ you then know that Bourdain is not short for words. He tells it like it is. His Beirut show was very candid, very emotional. His show on Haiti was not very forgiving either.  But I appreciated his “in your face” assessment of the situation in that country.

But he grossly failed to do that with Cuba. Of course, he was very clever in his opening VO disclaimer that this epi would be received with much criticism in some quarters. Well, yeah. You’re on the island with an American who is fascinated with beisbol and all of the other lovely things Cuba does offer. Of course, he’s going to see the “pretty,” if you will. But in sad reality, that’s just not what Cuba or Havana is about.

Sadly, Anthony did not show us in just terms what Cuba is really made of.  He didn’t get to the gut of the city. To the neighborhoods where real people live -with the exception of a brief escapade to munch on a tamal from a street vendor. He didn’t talk to the woman who has to stand in line under a scorching sun to extract water from the pipa, the water truck that makes its rounds so people can get what they can — oh yeah, because there’s no running water as you and I know it.  He had running water and electricity every day, all day — I’m sure of it — otherwise there’d be no lights to light the set; no tape to show his fans.

(El Morro en Cojimar, East Havana– a military lookout)

Let me just focus on food before I briefly touch on one other single important State matter he mentioned.  I know for a fact that things have not gotten better. Not even since his visit in October 2010. Firsthand recounts from close Cuban friends who visit quite often and my paternal grandmother (whom just returned from a one month visit in June) indicate deteriorating conditions.

Food continues to be severely scarce and inaccessible. Sure, if you have  fulas, American $$, you can buy pretty much anything that is available. But with average monthly wages documented at $16 USD, it’s hardly believable that the paladar, that quasi-privately owned home-based restaurant where Tony so cheerfully dined in, turns 200 guests per day. He even looked surprised considering the small and quaint size of the joint, holding only 16 guests at a time.

(Mi tia’s friend climbing a coconut tree in her yard  for my mother to enjoy)

I was particularly happy to see the farmers’ markets! I wasn’t able to visit any while I was there. I do know the markets are growing and open to the general public. Great! But another omission by Tony and his journalist host is that you have to pay with American dollars. I won’t stretch the truth and claim every single market only allows dollars, but more of them require cash payment in greenbacks. If you’re slick, you can swindle your way around that. That’s what Cubans are about; a constant hustle for survival. Not owners of uber successful and NY-kinda busy wholes in the wall. Well, unless it’s endorsed by the government.

One such paladar would be La Guarida.

Back to those glorified paladares. I was remarkably interested in his take on them. What he failed to mention and totally glossed over, making them seem like the place to be, is that they are heavily taxed by the government and at a whim’s notice can be shut down by Castro. Much like my late maternal grandfather’s thriving dry cleaning business was stripped of operating licenses and equipment. That was in 1961, but seemingly not much has changed in the ways the government throws its weight around and exercises its power and discretion. Another case in point was a wildly popular paladar owned by a black woman– a family friend. Her guests: Hollywood stars. When I first entered her gorgeous and all decked-out home, I was kinda starstruck upon seeing portrait-sized framed images of A-list actors like Danny Glover. That paladar is no longer open. And not by choice.

Okay, maybe we can chalk that up to bad business. Maybe. But what about the infamous ration book that Bourdain mentions en breve as if it were normal and acceptable? As if the the majority of viewers knew what he referred to. While it is the  norm for Cubans as they know it, in this free world, in 2011, how can any one rational person wrap their beautiful mind around the notion of being told what you’re going to eat each month?

Let me paint a bad yet true picture. If you have a child under the age of 2, you are given an allowance of a certain quantity of milk per month. No sooner than that child turns 2 years and 1 day, the milk allowance is removed from your card. Same goes for meat, poultry, eggs and many other staples.

But Bourdain didn’t expand on that. I’m talking food here, not politics.

I held one of these libretas during my 1st trip to abuela’s house. My jaw dropped as I flipped through the faded cream pages and cringed at the idea  that my late grandmother and living aunt were told what they could eat. My parent’s also had ration cards, so I’m sensitive to that omission in the show.  If not listed in the ration card, your street hustle for food becomes an obvious, full-time job. A true story: My tia sold clothes we sent her in order to purchase a full-sized hog to feed us during our 14-day visit. Poor little pig was eventually slaugthered in the fly-infested backyard. Of course, I passed on eating swine, but I had plenty of chicken… the very chickens  you see in that picture above–my tia’s personal hustle.

And somehow Bourdain was able to paint this colorful picture of a Cuba where food, “good food,” is accessible and readily available to enjoy. The mojitos in that swanky and aquatic-themed bar looked like the perfect libation, the arroz congri was a perfect brown color and the lechon was succulent at the paladar.  But my tia doesn’t eat like that every day, or even often, for that matter. And neither do her friends or her neighbors. Or anyone I came  in close contact to the two times I’ve been there.

It’d be nice if they could regularly eat the very food that originated there. But the majority can’t.

( a traditional Cuban meal recently prepared by my brother’s new wife)

See, access to public establishments, usually occupied by international visitors, is not always open to natives. It may seem unreasonable and again unfathomable that one can not freely enter a local restaurant or hotel. But that is Cuba’s reality. And I experienced it. I was unceremoniously rejected and not allowed in La Bodeguita del Medio, one of Havana’s most famous restaurants, because I was mistaken for a native cubanita—yes, I was speaking Spanish. My aunt and I were also not allowed in The Nacional– the fancy hotel were Bourdain rested his head during his visit. I was simply allowed to take a picture standing hundreds of feet away.

I could go on and on about food and the dubious regard Bourdain had about “delicious” food, but I have to take issue with his bold and inaccurate assertion that the Revolution produced three good things: the preservation of old cars, education and free healthcare. (I have to admit here that, although partially in jest, he briefly mentioned that the three worst things the Revolution had delivered were breakfast, lunch and dinner.)

Like my father, I won’t make this a political statement. Just simply telling it like it is. When my grandmother died in 2005, an efficient ambulance response could have saved her life. But let’s assume her massive heart attack was untouchable by even the best medic. How about my dad’s cousin, who only in his late twenties and healthy as a stallion, died of pneumonia for lack of adequate treatment and medications? Sure, young people die of pneumonia in many other poor countries, but none claim, as a strident propaganda tool, to have one of the best health care systems in the world!  I’m sure many of you cannot guess that any hospital admittance requires you bring our own light bulbs, sheets and other basic necessities. But he thinks healthcare was one of the good things the Revolucíon gave the island.

Ahh, the wonders of the socialized, free healthcare so lauded by Bourdain!

I’m insulted. My grandmother died at the hands of that  regime. My dad’s cousin died at the hands of that  regime. And my aunt doesn’t have access to migraine medicine unless we send it to her.

(My late grandmother at age 19)

I echo my father’s sentiments in that the crafty and over-saturated video shots were appealing and so attractive that I couldn’t help but smile at the Euro-esque street they panned to. It was lovely for sure. It didn’t even look like Cuba, actually, it could have been any other Latin American city. Not one laden with broken up Chevy’s, kept together by “tape” and other scraps Cubans know how to creatively use. That’s the problem. That’s the Cuba for Tony and the likes. It’s not the Cuba I know or the Cuba my family on the island lives every day.

I suspect much of his decision to stay away from this gross and heart-breaking truth is to save face and keep the lines of communication open. I’m sure he’d like to go back. No one wants to be black-listed from entering a country. Plus, with the opening of Cuba very possible in the next decade, there’s no doubt it’ll again be the gem of the Caribbean, much like it was in the 40s…and 50s…an island Bourdain will likely want to revisit. After all, he did say it was one of the most beautiful cities he’s been to, and he’s been to a lot.

I was initially excited about watching the show and will admit I enjoyed watching it. But as I re-watched it over and over again, I couldn’t help but to feel the negligent disservice he’s done to you (if you watched). A star like Bourdain, one known for his witty mouth and point blank opinions, should not fear any repercussions in showing the good, the bad and the ugly. But he did in this case.

It’s TV, so I get it. I won’t say kudos to him for producing a severely skewed view of the island where I was born. But I do laud him for finding interest and charm in my people. We are a colorful and resilient bunch.

And because of this very sensitive episode, I just may finally make plans to go back this year. And then I’ll really show you what Cuba is all about… [that is, if the government let’s me in after this post.]

With no reservation.

Eat well, love unapologetically, pray with true intention, and take care of yourself.

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37 thoughts on “Anthony Bourdain in Havana: The Truths He Missed

  1. So appreciate your candor. Even though you didn’t make this political and you tried to keep it relatively light, it still made me tear up reading it. I don’t own a tv which is just as well, it seems, because I’m sure I’d lose respect for Bourdain in that medium after seeing things like this gross misrepresentation. The only other reason I can think of that he may have portrayed things the way he did was to attract more tourism to the country, thinking that perhaps with more influx of outside $ things might improve within. At least that’s why I hope he took the easy way out.

    So respect and appreciate your citizen journalism, girl. xoxo

  2. I don’t watch this show very often. But I loved your response to him and the photos are amazing. I totally agree with Maria Amelia. Thank you for sharing your perpsective – with no reservations!

  3. Interesting at “where real people live”. I respect you and your fathers opinion but I’m truly annoyed. This show is not about POLITICS or the “issues” in a certain country. It’s a light hearted food and travel show. He treated it like any other show. He made “PC” comments to stay neutral because he knows how people can over analyze EVERYTHING. It’s an hour show and he can’t possibly put everything that YOU want in a show.

    How did he make Cuba GLAMOROUS looking? He clearly stated that the locals can’t even afford to go to restaurants. I mean just looking at the place lets you know that they were struggling. He didn’t have to say that verbally. That’s obvious. Although it looked very run down, I personally thought it had a beautiful architecture old school vibe to it. It was pretty in an old school way. I travel alot so I appreciate things like that. No internet no nothing. Lots of politics/dictatorship. It’s a mess BUT that’s not what this show was about. He focused on things to do and food. I got the sense that Cubans make with what they have. It’s all about trying to survive and they have it rough. There’s more to say but I’m on someone’s computer and have to get off. Again I respect everyones opinion but this was not that type of show. Leave that to PBS or something. lol

  4. Leticia: I’ll address you first b/c I appreciate your honesty in disagreeing with our assessment. I’ll try to keep it short since I already wrote over 2k works 🙂 I KNOW his is not a political show. But he has touched on politics in many other episodes. Did you watch the Beirut show? Did you watch Haiti? He touched on that, not me nor my father… To go to Cuba, an island that does not have open or friendly relationships with the US is an indirect political statement. He doesn’t have to say so. How did he glamorize Cuba? He went to places that the general public doesn’t have access to. Most viewers of his show can’t go to Cuba so only highlighting the pretty is not a fair representation of what’s there. Sure, he said not everyone can afford to eat at the restaurants, but why not tell us why! I travel a lot too and like to share all facets of my experiences.

    Anthony is far from light-hearted….it’s a terrifically and very logistically (and strategically) produced show– I’m sure his team had to go through a lot of red POLITICAL tape to get into the city… trust me. I’m not asking him to show everything I want him to show. I simply wish he would have had the same audacity to speak ugly truths about my Cuba the same way he has about about other countries he’s visited!

    That being said, thanks for sharing your thoughts! That’s what this blog is about! Sharing information and allowing my readers to politely comment and agree or disagree! 🙂

  5. Let me reply to Leticia here. Anybody knows that everything, I mean, everything about Cuba IS political, not by choice, mind you, but because 52 years of repressive regime have made it so. Yes, No Reservations is not political, then he should have refrained from even mentioning Communism, Fidel Castro or the “accomplishments” of the so-called Revolution. You want to make a light-hearted show about travel and food? so be it; then stick to that. I respect your opinion, but Anthony Bourdain opened himself up to all sorts of political criticism when he chose to go to a country under a highly repressive regime and made some political comments that served that regime well. On other shows, as Bren pointed out, he has been a lot more outspoken about the social and political conditions. Cuba should have been no different. Let’s not try now to gloss over his glossing over the Cuban reality!

  6. La carne con arroz y frijoles (casamiento is what we call it) looks so perfect… and so what I want to eat for lunch right now… if only ( :

  7. It´s very important what you are doing now, speaking out about what you know! Maybe he doesn´t really care about reallity in Cuba , who knows! Great post and amazing pictures!

  8. Great post Bren. I hope you do get to visit again and write or show us how real people live and make it Cuba with what available.
    Not taking sides but I do suspect Bourdain was most likely limited in what he could show for various reasons while in the country by the govt. He warned that many would object to this show for that reason, because he knew he couldn’t show the whole truth and TV is more about selling an idea these days, than reality.

  9. WOW! Bren, your passion drips off the screen. I agree with you. Tony is not any host, but one whose in-your-face, no-holds-barred personality has made him the unique, admired, and respected voice in food and travel writing/shows (especially now that these shows have gone totally Meat Head). I agree with you and David that everything about Cuba is political. I witnessed this when I viewed a Vanguard documentary on Current TV last week, and the reporter did nothing but slam Cuba. Well-deserved criticism, but unbalanced. That’s the point, problem, and challenge: can we talk about something as emotionally explosive as Cuba, right down the middle? Should we? We all make editorial choices, inserting some things at the expense of others. How do we come up with the most comprehensive picture, especially for those who don’t have expertise, but want to, need to know?

  10. You wrote this with so much love. I feel your pain. Often, the media does portray Cuba as a progressive country. Your perception changed my romantic viewpoint. Still, I would love to visit Cuba, but I’m much more aware.

  11. Beautifully written, informative and passionate. Enjoyed reading this piece and your father’s.

    I have not watched the show and will not watch it. Just not interested in celebrities going to do shows in Cuba.


  12. Bren, I appreciate the thoughtfulness, clear data points, and reference to why you were critical of the show. Since I’ve never watched the show (and never been to Cuba), I can’t comment on a lot of the above. What I can say is that I learned a lot from your post and appreciated it a great deal. Thanks for speaking your truth!

  13. Marcela: no los probe porque los hizo me cuñada… pero si se ve riquisimo! 🙂

    Ericka: Check it out online if you’d like.

    Eliana: Thanks for taking the time to read it.

    Uchi: It’ll be great for you the day you do!

    CoCo Cooks: I’m sure he was limited in what he could tape, but I’m certain he edited and did his voice overs here… but I do wonder how much censorship he experienced.

    The Wise Latina Club: I appreciate your candor, honesty and sharing your opinion….I know there are readers that disagree with my father’s and mine opinion and that’s okay. But like you said, how do you impart truth to those that don’t really know? I’ve always said it’s best to have open, one on one conversations with people that know and are bonafide experts. I continue to learn from my father. He LIVED the through the Revolution. Admittedly, he had to correct me on a few points while I wrote my piece.

    Laz: Gracias, cubiche! I’m glad you stood your ground and decided not to watch. Your personal decision. I enjoyed in part but was disappointed for obvious reasons…

    Aurelia: Thanks for keeping it real. I wouldn’t expect you to emotionally comment w/out watching this episode or having been to Cuba. At least you learned something! 🙂

  14. I never watch his show, so I feel like you tuned me in. I WISH I could go to Cuba… I’ve seen many films about Cuba and how the people live…. 🙁 Leaves me sad, but there is also a real inspiration taken away from their passion for life and the beautiful characters that shine through even through the toughest times. One day I will visit Cuba….it’s on my bucket list.

  15. A very interesting read! Yes, Cuba is no paradize (with such a regime). A pity Bourdain failed here. I love his shows and his rock’n’roll personality, though…

    Your grandmother was a beautiful lady!



  16. You already know my thoughts based on my personal observations when I was in Cuban — and they align with yours. There were misstatements in the show…he drank el jugo de propaganda they gave him.

  17. Think I need to see this episode… I never read reactions to his Saudi Arabia show; I wonder how they compare. He definitely has been in dictatorial regimes and painted them less ugly before this one. I’ve been less and less interested in his show over time.

    Note: The Beirut show was “special” thanks to bombs falling around them. Haven’t seen the Haiti one yet. I’d say his show on Mexico would fall on the obviously political side, too, and not just because I agree with it…

  18. Didn’t see this show, I like AB’s travels and takes. Your dad’s commentary and yours are moving. There must be something in the water that strikes foreign visitors with amnesia and makes them drool all over when they hop in a cab outside Jose Marti Airport. It’s about not knowing what Cuba was like in the ’50s, when your dad and I were growing up: not a perfect place, but third in development stats in Latin America -fifth in the Western hemisphere- and better than some European countries in health, education, gender and labor-equity indicators. Most people think that Cuba always was a poor 3rd World country, so they are mesmerized to see motor vehicles and electricity, hospitals, ten-story buildings, luxury hotels and uniformed school children. And worse: they think the revolution built all that! Don’t you remember in the early years of exile people used to ask us if we had electricity in Cuba? Please! We owe to the Castro mafia [Spanish-white] Cuba’s return to colonial-poverty standards of living. It’s like the Valeriano Weyler revenge: “Make those cubanitos pay for the audacity of wanting their freedom. Someone destroy the fucking island.” The gallego Castros must have bid for the job, and won. Eleven million Cubans held hostage, one hundred years later! Bourdaine probably did what he had to do to get away with such a show, which, as everyone seems to describe, was nonetheless beautiful and on target about the food. If he didn’t mention the ration card, it’s understandable. He would not have passed censorship. Maybe he has miles of footage that some day he will reveal, with people saying to him “nos estamos muriendo de hambre, mi’jo… Hay que irse de aquí”…. It’s true his program is never political, no matter what country he is in. Thank you and your dad for your texts, and to all those who have enriched the reading with their comments. Regards to your dad. Best, Ileana Fuentes

  19. Ah, Ileana, que placer reconectar de esta manera!! Thank you for your comments and powerful insights. While we never got to meet in person, I’m honored to know you. I wish the readers of this blog would get to know you, too, and your indefatigable activity and efforts at all levels, intellectualy and practical, to shed the light of truth about Cuba’s reality. Keep it up! Un abrazo.

  20. What a wonderful post. TV shows like to “extend” the truth or even exaggerate but I have heard the very things you have just explained. It’s sad, just sad people live like that.

  21. BRAVO!!! BRAVO!!!!! BRAVO!!!!!!

    If AB is doing a food and travel show… what’s the objective??? For you to travel without leaving your sofa?? For you to want to visit such country?? To “promote” the culinary flavors and dishes of a country?? Then if I mentioned at least ONE of the real underlining objectives for doing this show, he should’ve called it like it REALLY IS. Thanks Bren for filling the great gap I always knew this type of show would have.

    As you already know… I have chosen not to watch the episode. My family stories hail from farther back from yours. We were such of those families that had to leave because all of a sudden, everything my granddad owned, became property of the Revolution.

    I have never visited Cuba… my dad left his country aproximately 50yrs ago. He has never returned but longs EACH AND EVERY DAY to visit his own soil before he dies. I will go to see Cuba some day… the day that all Cubans, living there and those in exile, can have access to the same oportunities. I know such day exists…

  22. I don’t watch the TV show, so I can’t comment on his portrayal of Cuba, but I did notice that you said a couple of times that you weren’t being political. That you were just talking about food and telling how things really are. But that is political. Telling the truth is political. When people are suffering, that is a political issue.

    The minutiae that we deal with in our day to day lives, in my opinion, that is political. Our politicians are supposed to represent us and help us when we need it. In the US, so many people don’t want to vote or get involved with local politics, because they don’t think it involves them. But politics involves all of us.

  23. As you know, I still haven’t seen the show, and I doubt I will see it anytime soon as I don’t watch TV at home. I’ve only seen perhaps 10 of his shows, and I do enjoy the series! But I watch it mostly for the food. It’s difficult to watch one image and know there’s something not so pretty on the other side, especially if you see a truth that others do not. Anthony Bourdain is no fool, so I am positive he decided to shy away from realities for numerous reasons. The biggest disservice is to the viewers who may not even know what the real situation in Cuba may be. After watching the show, they still wouldn’t have much of a clue, so they may continue to think of it as a complete paradise. That’s the most unfortunate part.

  24. Wow, Bren, this post was amazing. So well written and poignant. I really admire your candor and learned so much about the Cuban experience through your vivid words. Just shared it on my FB page 🙂

  25. Everything is political. Truth is he and the network were probably given very specific instructions and directions on how they could portray Cuba. (Ie. Jersey shore and their expectations on what could be portrayed in Italy) So I wouldn’t be offended, although u r allowed ur feelings for sure. I see it as an opportunity to show Cuba.off, even if the US doesn’t approve he went anuways. It’s not all bad but there’s.politics and propaganda behind it all. Just saying….

  26. Thanks to all so far for your thoughts. Some have brought up some good points I disagree with. I’ll expand tomorrow… it’s not all what you see on TV or hear afficionados say… think on that for now… As my dad said earlier, someone whom LIVED through the Revolution, everything about Cuba is political. Everything. And until you’ve been there to experience it for yourself, you can only speculate. Whatever AB showed off as Alma says, has already been said and showed off and glorified by people that know little about the island other than the food they eat in Florida, the cigars, the images of vintage cars, the lovely women, the beaches, etc… I learned nothing new about Cuba watching hte show. Anyone that has even remotely followed Cuba didn’t see anything new either, let’s be honest. And, finally like Chrystal said, for someone like herself who doesn’t know much about the island, AB did her a disservice by spending so much time at a kids’ baseball game that depicts a jolly ol’ time. She probably wouldn’t spend time doing that if she ever visited –unless it was an impromptu street game. I simply urge you to talk to people, real people that have lived there. Cubans that were robbed of all liberty. That were separated from their families (like my parents were), that are starving (like my aunt still is), that make $11/month working 16-hr days, 7 days a week (like my cousin did) — these are all things I’ve seen with my own eyes… you can’t convince me AB didn’t know what he was doing when he went there and painted a lovely (in spite of…) of an island whose leader has killed thousands… remember, he has “mixed” feelings about Castro… But I only encourage you to learn beyond the TV screen if you’re really interested…that goes for anything…

  27. Powerful post Bren, thank you so much for giving us your thoughts. As someone who has never visited Cuba, it’s easy to see Cuba as Tony paints it. I am happy to have read your point of view, learn a little about your family and learn a little more of Cuba. Your grandma is stunning and I hope you visit soon and take us along with you.

  28. Bren, I completely agree with everything you said.
    TV makes it hard to tell the full truth about Cuba.

    He did miss a lot and sadly, he re-told the non-truths about health and education that journalists and tourists seem to buy. My own family has had to have medicine and operating room items sent to them so they could have care.

    And, the food thing kills me. So many people can’t eat their own traditional foods and the way of cooking has been lost of many who have grown up on soy and without cumin and oregano and bay and all the things we use in Cuban cooking.

    I could go on, but I totally agree with you.

    Want to know the real Cuba? Go there, get out of the tourist areas, meet real Cubans. They’ll tell you the truth.

    TV can’t.

  29. I admire your passion, Bren, and this post exemplifies it. I do hope you can go back to your Cuba and share with us your real experiences. It’s important

  30. I’ve been trying to figure out what to say for the last couple of days and the best that I could come up with is this – I don’t think the general public REALLY wants to know what true island life is like. And quite frankly the reason why they flock to and never leave island resorts when they visit them. (Please note that I am not lumping everyone into this category….I’m just speaking generally.) Throw political unrest into the mix and it’s too much to handle. At the heart of it, especially for those living in the US, we want to believe and hope for the best and that’s why the show turned out the way that it did. More people however need to do what you and your dad just did here and paint a truer picture of what island life, especially island life in Cuba is really like. Thanks so much for sharing. I hope to one day visit the island and see if for what it truly is and experience it’s people that seem to be very much like my own. (sorry for rambling….jajajajajaja)

  31. Hi Bren – When I visited in 2001 a woman we were traveling with slipped on the malecon and cut her head, she went to the hospital and they had no bandages or gauze. She ended up using a sanitary napkin to bandage her cut. I am always amazed when people talk about the health care there. I was also told that doctors bring their own soap to the hospital to wash their hands.

    I was also struck that locals were not allowed into our hotel. So sad. May the people of Cuba regain the blessings of liberty and freedom.

    And although the food was pretty good, I was amazed by the lack of variety. Lots of chicken, and seemingly one type of fish, a type of snapper, curious for an island?

    I’m going to go read your dad’s piece now. I am interested to see Tony’s show.

  32. As another interesting twist, Bourdain mentioned during segment on the Colbert show in interest in what people are not eating. I have a sneaking suspicion that Bourdain’s views are one way, but the producers have been infected by the “everything must appear balanced no matter how out of whack it is” bug.

  33. Great insight Bren. A native is always going to have a more personal view of how their country is reflected compared to how an “outsider” will. I seriously doubt that he would have gotten into the politics of Cuba.

    I haven’t watched that show enough to know if he’s made critiques about other countries. If he has before, it seems weird that he didn’t shine a light on the realities of Cuba that you referenced. Then again, the show is about food.

  34. Not a mention or word about the callous and illegal US forever-embargo on the Cuban people, making their lives even more difficult? Check what the UN General Assembly has to say about this at the end of this month – for the ummteeenth time it will condemn it again as i l l e g a l, with 2 votes in favour – the US. and Isreal is the prediction.
    And why is it this gvt. does not allow you to travel to Cuba, when most Cubans can now travel to our country – freely. It’s a restriction not in tune with our usual freedoms, more common in …you guessed it.
    Frankly, political powers have been strangling Cuba for over 50 years but still have the nerve to condemn it for still breathing.

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