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Matajíbaro: endangered Cuban dish but still kicking

By Indira R. Ruiz
Special to A.M. Cuba

Wild pig hunters knew about matajíbaro as well as Cuban cowboys and even fugitive slaves. But ask for it in a Havana restaurant and you are likely to be met with befuddled looks.

TheCubanHistory.com
Matajíbaro, hard to find but worth the search.

Matajíbaro is a traditional Cuban food that has lost its way in modern times. Similar to Costa Rica's picadillo de platanos con carne, matajíbaro is made by smashing fried plantains together with garlic and grinded pork chips. This puree mixture is then rolled into balls the size of plums and placed in folded banana leaves where it can be stored for days. This ability to keep is why matajíbaro was the only food wild pig hunters would take with them in the hunting season, and why it was a favorite among cowboys who needed to move their cattle through the Cuban Eastern Savana for several days. Additionally, matajíbaro's simplicity to prepare and extraordinary spicy bitter sweet taste made it a natural choice for those who needed to be away from home for extended periods of time.

Today, matajíbaro is considered a traditional plate for popular festivities in eastern provinces like Camag
üey and Las Tunas. But it's rare to find in other places away from the eastern area. Most likely, people who live in places like Havana or Pinar del Rio would very rarely have tasted such a peculiar food.

Visitors to Cuba might also be hard-pressed to find matajíbaro on menus. However, there are enough traditional restaurants in Havana that it's not impossible to have a matajíbaro encounter.

One of these restaurants is Castas & Tal located on the corner of San Lázaro and Galiano streets in Habana Centro. The restaurant holds a certificate of excellence by TripAdvisor.

"The original making of matajíbaro came to Cuba with the African slaves during the Spanish Colony period," said Castas & Tal chef Zenén Herrera. "That is why it can be found all over the Caribbean, sometimes with other names or with a slight variation in the ingredients or preparation."

Offering matajíbaro was the idea of Castas & Tal owner and head chef Rancys Valdés, a member of the Cuban Chefs Association. She instructs the plate be made with pork chips and plantain balls that are deep-fried then set on top of a chard leaf accompanied by barbecue sauce on the side.

You can find recipes with varying ingredients on the Internet or in the social media. But you might like to try the traditional recipe first, taught to me by my father, a Las Tunas born guajiro (native) who learned it from his grandpa's hunting habits in the deep swamp.

Ingredients

      
·   One cup of pork lardy meat (barrigada) if you want to do pork chips yourself. Otherwise
            you can just buy them.
      
·   Two banana plantains (one green and one ripening) per person.
      
·   Garlic.
      
·   Salt.

After chopping it off, the pork meat needs to be deep-fried. You will do so with the plantain, previously cut into 1 inch portions. When fully cooked all ingredients will be ground in a mortar along with the garlic and the salt. Finally little matajíbaro balls are made by hand and served. You might find the taste a little too dry at first, but you can put some oil in it until it gets a tasty consistency, or you can increase the ripening banana proportions for a sweeter flavor.

— June 21, 2016

   
  
 
Commercial routes could begin in the fall

US approves carriers for flights to Cuba

By the A.M. Cuba wire services

The United States has given six airlines permission to operate commercial flights to Cuba, which have been barred for decades.


Eddie Maloney via Wikimedia Commons
JetBlue is one of six airlines that will be offering flights between the U.S. and Cuba.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced licenses Friday for American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines and Sun Country Airlines.

The airlines will fly to nine cities in Cuba, but not Havana. U.S. transportation officials said they had yet to make a decision on flights to the Cuban capital because interest from airlines was much higher for those routes and there were competing claims.

The routes approved Friday include service from the U.S. cities of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Philadelphia and Minneapolis, flying to such Cuban cities as Santa Clara and Santiago de Cuba.

Final approval is still required by the Cuban government, but carriers said they hoped to begin flights this fall.

U.S. law still prohibits most tourist visits to Cuba. However, President Barack Obama has authorized exceptions for other types of travel, including family visits, official business, journalist visits and educational tours.

In the last year and a half, Cuba and the United States have begun restoring diplomatic relations, including reopening embassies in Washington and Havana. While the United States maintains a trade embargo against Cuba, Obama has eased economic links between the two countries, five decades after Cuba's former president, Fidel Castro, nationalized U.S. businesses on the island.

Now, some American businesses are opening operations in Cuba, and U.S. cruise ships have begun making ports of call to the island nation.

— June 10, 2016



                                                                                                                                                                          Ministerio de Seguridad Pública photo
                   Raids turned up considerable contraband including hydroponically
                   grown marijuana plants.


Police raids squelch Cuba-CR drug ring

By the A.M. Cuba staff

Three Cubans who are Costa Rican residents were among those arrested in a drug operation with ties to Cuba.

The arrests announced Wednesday also included some that had been made months earlier. Among these is the detention of a Costa Rican woman with the last name of Jiménez who was caught in Cuba Dec. 6 by police there in the possession of $73,000.

In all, anti-drug police wrapped up two interlocking operations dedicated to the production and sale of drugs. The transactions included sending Costa Ricans to Cuba in the guise of clothing vendors.

Police here said they tipped off the Cubans when the woman made a trip.

In raids Wednesday the Policía de Control de Drogas of the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública and the Dirección de Inteligencia y Seguridad Nacional announced they found two hydroponics labs, one in Curridabat Wednesday morning and the other on May 5 in Escazú.

Agents said that Costa Ricans were enticed as couriers to carry drugs, mainly marijuana and cocaine, in baggage that appeared to be clothing for resale.

In all there were 11 persons detained, including those who had been arrested earlier. Among them is one person identified as a U.S. citizen with the last names of Soto Dazell, who is a Costa Rican resident.

Some of the drugs were entered into the local supply chains for distribution in Alajuela and in Rohrmoser, too, agents said.

Agent confiscated six vehicles. The raids also were in La Uruca, Escazú, Los Anonos, Alajuela and Guachipelín.

— June 9, 2016




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