Cuba in the Days of Pre-Cooked Rice and Okra

Elio Delgado Legon

Cuban okra. Foto:
Cuban okra. Foto:

HAVANA TIMES — I won’t be writing about a food recipe, no. Not long ago, talking with some friends about the days of our childhood and youth, I told them that, if I were to build a monument to any one thing, it would probably be to corn flour, for it had saved my life, keeping me from starving.

I still vividly recall those corn flour dishes I fought hunger with when I got home from school, after four and a half hours of class, having had no snacks and walking over two kilometers.

When you could accompany that flour mix with a bit of boiled sweet potato and a bit of lard, it went down easier, but, many a time, it was just the flour, without any lard. It was a tough bit of food to swallow, but it kept us on our feet for study and work.

Recently, while recalling those tough times – something we must never forget – I was talking about another dish that saved my skin many a time: pre-cooked rice with boiled okra. That dish also has a long history and deserves a place in our memory.

Because of health issues – or, rather, hunger issues – I lost three years of school, such that I finished the sixth grade when I was almost sixteen. Knowing I couldn’t enroll at university, I opted for a career in accounting at the Professional School of Commerce, which offered night classes. This allowed me to work and pay for transportation and other school expenses.

Since I didn’t earn enough to pay for my trip to school every day, I would skip some classes and later copy off classmates. I was in this situation for the first two years, as I earned very little pumping gas at a small station in town.

I would work till five in the afternoon and would dart off home on my bike, pedaling for nearly two kilometers. My mother would make supper for me while I bathed, as she had to head back to work to allow her workmate to have his supper break. When she got back, I would catch the bus headed for the provincial capital, Santa Clara. Classes began at eight and ended at eleven.

There came a time when my mother simply didn’t know what to do to put something on the table. At the time, the cheapest rice sold was pre-cooked rice (which was also known as “vitamin-enriched rice”). Despite having an agreeable taste, it was hard to have the plain rice and nothing else.

Some okra plants had grown in my backyard and, when they began to yield fruit, I saw in them the solution to my problem. For some time, I would get home from work, check the okra and rip out two or three okras, which my mother would boil and serve with the pre-cooked rice (making the dish easier to stomach).

I had to attend class with only that in my stomach and, when I got home at around midnight, the smell of freshly-baked bread that reached us from the town bakery deepened my hunger. If I had the two cents that the small and delicious oval loaf of bread they sold that late night cost, I could go to sleep with something in my stomach. But, many a time, I didn’t have those two cents and had to go to sleep on an empty stomach.

Because of this, I believe that, if corn flour is first in line in terms of monuments, number two is undoubtedly pre-cooked rice and okra.

4 thoughts on “Cuba in the Days of Pre-Cooked Rice and Okra

  • Well noted. It would be unreasonable to challenge Elio’s personal recollections. If he thinks he was a poor Cuban child, I won’t argue the point. Its when he begins to opine about current freedoms or the lack thereof in Cuba that the lying begins.

  • I note that Moses does not challenge the accuracy of Elio’s recollection. Nor does he suggest that the poverty of Elio’s early years was unusual.

  • Elio is at his best when he waxes nostalgic about his childhood in Cuba more than 60 years ago. Ironic since he is so pathetically predictable when he writes about current events in Cuba.

  • Too easily, we can forget what it was like for previous generations. My father recalled an incident in his childhood when he saw a grown man crying in a grocery store because he could afford to buy a sack of flour to feed his family. This was in Saskatchewan, in Canada during the Great Depression.

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