Cuban rations: confined to quarters

This week in my rationing challenge, I am trying to live on the equivalent of the weekly rations citizens in Cuba receive from their government. I was all geared up at the beginning of the week to get stuck into cooking some authentic Cuban recipes, but unfortunately I’ve been struck down with a bad cold and sinus pain. You find me writing this blog entry from bed, with my laptop balanced on my duvet, surrounded by tissues, but enough of that…

On the bright side, this means I have had very little appetite this week and can hardly taste or smell anything (apart from Vicks’ Vapour Rub), which I think may have helped eek out my rations without having to try Bill’s sensible suggestion of drinking a pint of water before each meal yet. At the start of the week, I took my beef ration and decided to use it to make a big chilli con carne, bulked up with lots of beans and vegetables. It was a wise decision and so far it has stretched to three meals – on rice, pasta and a baked potato with salad – and, amazingly, there is still a tiny bit left to go on top of second baked potato for lunch. The great thing about chilli is that it is one of those dishes, like spaghetti Bolognese, which seems to taste better when it’s reheated a day or two later. (Obviously, for food safety’s sake, I have only reheated the few spoonfuls that I required for each dish, rather than the whole chilli).

Last night we made some delicious tomato, mushroom & pepper quesadillas, using some leftover tortillas in the fridge. They were so flavoursome that even I managed to taste something. We threw in lashing of garlic and chopped chilli, hoping it would help banish my cold. We found that we had to be pretty sparing with the cheese, though, to ensure I wasn’t going over my £3.25 budget for additional food. It’s surprisingly easy to get carried away with the cheese grater.

Incidentally, Kerri on the blog and @jensen2401 on Twitter both made a valid point about the £3.25 budget I have set myself to buy extra food, in addition to the rations. While £3.25 is roughly a week’s pay for the average Cuban at current exchange rates, it would indeed have greater spending power in Cuba that it would in the UK. However, with few statistics available, it’s not that easy to determine how far the equivalent money would go. Plus, the money would also have to stretch to cover other items in a Cuban’s weekly budget. I like a challenge and I thought it would be all the more authentic to make the task more difficult.

I am looking forward to trying some of the traditional Cuban dishes, such as Cuban beans and rice and Huevos Habaneros, later in the week when I am feeling more human. I just hope I still have enough ingredients left. The beef ration will be gone but there should still be plenty of rice, beans and sugar left, plus leeks and other greens in our vegetable patch.

I’ll let you know how I get on next week. Have a great Easter xxx.

Do you give up items for Lent or other festivals? How do you feel about eating them again when Easter comes or the festival is finished? Do you crave them or have you weaned yourself off them? Leave a message and let me know.

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9 Responses to Cuban rations: confined to quarters

  1. Bill says:

    Hi there piper,Sorry ter here that yer are laid up, just as the weather hopes ter brighten up fers Easter. I have recently quit choci bics, in exchange fers coffe bourbons!I am also attempting ter give up cheese, but they just keep selling me the stuff. They even force me ter buy 2 fers the price of one, & most of it is synthetic, it even looks like cheap Chinese plastic. Me father would have told \’em where ter shove it, he also loved kase (Bung), but not the plastic stuff, even if could not taste anything, as the result of a wartime gas incident.The price of fine ground Parmesan is also outrageous, feers such a small packet. Used ter love a large shedload on me bolognese. I now use grated Cheddar, or grated Mozzarrella, when I can find it.Hope yer are fit in time ter enjoy the Bank Holiday. Have a nice \’un!

  2. Ignacio says:

    Hi there. I hope you get well soon. If you want to diet like a Cuban, why don\’t you move over there for a little while? I am sure you\’ll love losing your freedom to eat what you want, to travel, and to say what you want. I am 110% sure that many Cubans will gladly swap their rations for a chance to live anywhere. As a Cuban, I find offensive and patronising that someone has chosen to "diet" following the Cuban ration system as it was a fashion or a fad!! Maybe you should be aware that the ration system is nothing but a failure of the Cuban goverment to actually provide for its people. Also perhaps you don\’t know that the rations are not nearly enough and Cubans have to supplement their "diet" with food in the black market or at outrageously inflated prices in the dollar stores and the farmers\’ market. I think you owe and apology to all the Cubans living in Cuba who dream of being able to chose what to eat.Also, chilli con carne, leek and quesadillas ARE NOT Cuban dishes.

  3. john says:

    Hi I came into your blog because I saw the Cuba. flag. I found the Cuban "diet" piece you wrote at best very naive as you have reseached it if that very vaguely. At worst what you write is trivial and very insulting. You know people there do not eat what they eat by choice like you and do not have the right to post any pseudo liberal opinion like yours. For starters many people there get a helping hand from their families abroad and can afford to buy the third rate food they sell in those "tourist shop" or in black market. As for the ones that only rely on la libreta are seriously malnourished. The people do not have things we take for granted everyday and struggle a lot. Maybe you do not know this because Cubans are proud and positive and will never show anyone that they are in hardship. They get over it by having a laugh, a dance or singing to their favourite tune and looking ahead. Or maybe you have heard the government there still lying after 50 years that every one is ok and things will change. Fair enough Cuba\’s education rate and medicine are so advanced that they can compete with the best of the capitalist countries. Maybe these are reasons why you thought something so gravely serious as Cuba\’s rationing is something to trivialise and turn into a pedestrian little diet exercise. Got an idea for you! next time you can diet like they do in Ethiopia, Darfur, Afghanistan and the list goes on. Even the food you cooked is not remotely Cuban.

  4. Mike says:

    What\’s not mentioned in the article, or in the comments below, is that probably the major reason for shortages in Cuba is the total commercial, economic, and financial embargo imposed by the United States in February 1962. "The embargo is the perfect example used by anti-Americans everywhere to expose the hypocrisy of a superpower that punishes a small island while cozying to dictators elsewhere." — Moisés Naím, Newsweek, June 22, 2009

  5. Bill says:

    Hope yer are soon back on yer feet, fit & well, piper. Yer appear ter have rekindled the Cuban War this week, & I have no means ter comment on it, as I have never been ter Cuba. Or could it simply be the War on Poverty, Destitution, Deprivation, Dictatorship, etc.?Either way, I believe that as always, yer are simply doing yer best, with the limited, possibly slightly bent intelligence that we have available, on the topic.I find it equally good, that these people are taking the opportunity afforded by the Net, ter do as I me\’sen do so oft, & ter chip in their own good slant on the topic. I am sure that we all gain the benefit emanating from this Freedom of Expression, & that we all learn something useful from each other. Hopefully, one day the Net will reach ter the far side of the Moon, & even further, which would automatically improve our education, intelligence, & mutual understanding even further still.Another bit of good news, the sun is attempting ter shine on us Righteous in N. W. Brum today, after our charity garden party of yesterday was postponed ter next week.

  6. am says:

    Hope you\’re feeling better. I just stumbled on your blog by chance. Just wanted to comment on what we give up during Lent as Coptic Orthodox believers.Lent for us is fasting for around 55 days. We give up eating meat and all dairy products ie eggs. cheese, milk and anything made out of these products. Fish is eaten (but some people don\’t even eat fish) we also eat vegetables, cereals and fruits. No alcoholic drinks and most importantly no sex and some people don\’t even sleep on a bed they prepare a makeshift bed out of some rugs on the floor and sleep there . Preparing and cooking utensils are also separate during Lent (for example you don\’t use the same cutting board you were using before). The first two weeks on starting Lent are the most difficult for most people. But as you continue it becomes easier. Apart from Lent we have short numerous fasting days throughout the year so we might be sometimes tempted ..but the whole point is avoiding temptation and finishing your Lent. When the fasting is over and we start eating again some people might have a bit of a stomach problems if they indulge otherwise if you let your stomach get used to the food slowly you wont have any problems.Hope the weather gets better for you , I don\’t want to rub it in but I\’m in sunny Peru.

  7. Kerri says:

    Hi Piper, hope you are feeling better. I\’ve been reading this posts comments with interest. My personal view of your rationing \’challenges\’ are to demonstrate how difficult and limiting cooking/eating is when food is not readily available as it is to us in the UK under normal circumstances. I would hope that this also makes us more appreciative of the availability/freedom and choice we enjoy today, and also demonstrate exactly how much some of us waste. I am sure that your experiment was not intended to offend or patronise people who live with rationing (whether in Cuba or anywhere in the world) as part of daily life. I personally don\’t feel offended, or feel that you made light of the rationing my grandparents and parents were subject to in the UK during WWII, on the contrary, it served to remind me just how lucky I am. Similarly, I don\’t view your weekly challenges as a 100% accurate representation of what rationing for real is actually like, but a demonstration of some of the challenges, as well as the resourcefulness and creativeness forced by rationing. I am interested to know if you have another rationing challenge to follow?

  8. Piper says:

    Hi there. Thanks for all your comments. It\’s interesting to have messages from people from Cuba and Peru. Amazing. Thank you for your insights about life in Cuba and life in Peru during Lent. The challenge was not meant as a ‘dieting’ challenge, nor as a deliberate attempt to offend people in Cuba or elsewhere who have to exist on rations. Neither is it a political statement of any kind. Along with the World War Two rationing challenge the previous week, it was merely an exercise to gain a tiny insight into what it may be like trying to live on finite rations. That\’s it.

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