Havana Restaurants and Orisha Offerings

Jorge Milanes Despaigne

One of the private restaurants in Havana. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — At lunch time, I walk around near my place of work in search of a coffee shop or restaurant where I can eat. Finding one isn’t always easy for, though there are many private and State establishments in Havana, I can’t always afford eating there and I have to like the place.

I’ve been irregularly visiting some of these privately-run restaurants in Old Havana, where the prices are reasonable and the food acceptable, something that’s hard to maintain.

Of these, there’s one I like in particular. The owners are proud of the number of customers they have every day, but, apparently, they still haven’t realized that many things that can drive away their clientele.

Though the owners of these establishments are only just starting out in the sector, I think they should not lose from sight how important kind treatment, the employee’s dress and cleanliness of the place are. Some require, or, better said, urgently need some consultancy in terms of their image.

I went to this place for lunch days ago. When I sat down at a table, I glanced over at a corner of the restaurant and saw some images of Orisha dieties. I didn’t think much of it, thinking it was a date in which offerings are made or a festivity is held in the religion, that it was something temporary that would later be taken down.

Yesterday, I went back with a friend from work, because the food there is quite tasty. The servings are large and the service is good, but that isn’t all one cares about. On the way, I was telling my friend what I didn’t like about the place and that, perhaps, they’d already taken down the effigies. When I got to the entrance, I noticed there were barely any patrons inside. I turned towards the corner and was struck by a terrible image: everything there was much more exuberant. There were even feathers, blood and the heads of some animals. I didn’t get a table. I told my friend I was leaving and would never be coming back.

I understand there are days the Orishas are honored, but they should also have their own, separate spaces, and not necessarily in places where food is served.

3 thoughts on “Havana Restaurants and Orisha Offerings

  • Nicely written, Jorge. This is sooooooooo Cuban….

  • I lived for two months in the central Havana home of a Babalao, a Santería priest. (Yes, it was an illegal Casa particular). His home was immaculate in every way except for the middle bedroom which he had converted into a shrine/temple. It had coconuts and rotten duck carcasses. Bloodied machetes and yellow/green beads adorned a crucifix. Vases, dead flowers and a goat skull formed the centerpiece. What really grossed me out was that people would bring all kinds of sweets and pastels that they would place on the floor in front of the rotted sacrifices. Later, they would EAT this stuff. Despite the rumors, no babies were sacrificed. At least none that I saw.

  • Thank you, Jorge, for writing this! You speak for many of us. The lower on the economic scale, the less people care about others with whom we’re blessed to share the planet. Maybe someday, empathy for others will arrive, but the Cuban culture has a long way to go before people develop a respect for all life. And, Cubans need leaders who will promote humane values. Unfortunately, nobody is fostering that path now. Very, very sad, but true.

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