Spaghetti, Havana Style

Danae Suarez

A store selling in hard currency. Photo: Caridad

A few days ago I received a visit of a friend who works in Italy.  Since she knows that I adore Parmesan cheese, she brought back a little bottle of grated cheese as a gift.  To thank her, I immediately thought of inviting her and her husband over for a special dish to celebrate their return.  “I’ll prepare Spaghetti a la Carbonara,” I told her, rubbing my hands together.

Of course I didn’t have any pasta on hand, but thank heavens I did have a few eggs and I could scape together some money and head to the closest supermarket for the rest.

In hard currency supermarkets here in Cuba, if you’re lucky you can find two or three brands of pasta, but the one made here on the island, Vitta Nouva, is what most people prefer; “You get more and it’s cheaper,” they say.  Of course that was the type I bought.  I asked for two packages since it was for a celebration and there was no reason to be stingy.

When I got home —almost bouncing off the walls with excitement over the truly fine cuisine we had in store— I immediately began heating up some water.  But when I went to open the packets, I stopped to look at them for the first time.  They were full —full!— of little beetles.

At once I looked for the wrapper thinking how wrong it would be to sell a product after its expiration date, at least for the same price (sometimes when goods are about to expire the store marks them down, and people “take advantage” of the discount).  However, I froze in astonishment.  The production date was August 2010, and it was clearly written at the bottom that these could be safely consumed for at least one year after that date.  The maker must have had bug soup in mind!

In any case, we ended up dining on fried eggs with rice, along with one banana each, typical Cuban food.  Meanwhile we discussed what could have happened for this recently packaged pasta to wind up in that condition.

An almost forgotten voice —that of my mother-in-law— suggested that in the factory they must have packaged the oldest pasta first, and what I bought had probably sat around for months due to some problem, like a shortage of wrappers.

“Now you know.  It’s like in hell: when they’re not missing a hammer they’re short a table,” my mother-in-law railed.  Later on, when my friend was boarding the airplane, even she said that we should sue the company.

That evening though, I remained quiet all through the dinner – maybe from the embarrassment of having to serve fried eggs and rice.  But in my head resonated the voices of Los Aldeanos singing: “buenos tiempos volveran” (good times will come again).

Danae Suarez

Danae Suárez: I’ve always felt responsible for defending values that are eternal but unfortunately have been forgotten in a world that tends more towards the depersonalization of the human being. So what better place than my country to assume the task that each conscious citizen should assume: To work for a better society. I will never forget the famous phrase of Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “What we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But if that drop was not in the ocean, I think the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” I’m therefore committed to ensuring that my drop is not missing.



One thought on “Spaghetti, Havana Style

  • I’m sure your friends enjoyed the meal Danae – I know we would have. You should not feel embarrassed, but proud – you did what all we women do – produced a meal from nothing! Again! Well done. Even in Europe we get these little upsets – in a well-stocked supermarket in mainland Spain, I noticed (just in time) that a packet of rice was full of little beetles. And flour often “comes alive”.
    We’re coming back to Cuba for another visit next March, to see the people and the country. Any good food we have is a bonus and we do appreciate it, and try not to waste anything. (yes we eat rice and bananas!)
    My mother-in-law once put a special Christmas lunch (a big turkey) in her super new automatic oven, and we all went off to church. When we came back, the oven had filled with gas but not lit, so the turkey was full of gas – we were very lucky the house hadn’t exploded! We ate eggs and chips for Christmas dinner, with all the windows open to get rid of the gas smell.

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