I mean, we have sushi here in Cuba, but it’s terrible. You’re better off eating it in Japan!” That was the advice our reporter Yuichiro got when, craving a taste of home, he asked a Cuban friend where he could find some tasty sushi in his home country.

But for some reason, his friend’s protestations made our intrepid reporter even more intrigued. “Looking back on it now though,” says Yuichiro, “I wish I’d quit while I was ahead…”

The golden rule of eating abroad, of course, is that you should never try to order “home comforts” in another country. It’s just going to make you miserable. That’s why, as a Brit, I don’t particularly go for fish and chips or sandwiches in Japan. I can eat those things at home, and their eastern equivalents always seem pretty lacklustre to me. But our man Yuichiro was determined to eat sushi in Cuba. What would it be like, he wondered?

“I wouldn’t say I recommend them, but if you absolutely insist…” Yuichiro’s friend reluctantly gave him the names of two Japanese restaurants in Havana. He began his mission by going to both – but he couldn’t find any sushi, or even anywhere to sit down and rest because both restaurants had closed down!

What to do? Yuichiro really wanted to try Cuban sushi, but he was out of options already! Standing outside the second restaurant wondering what his next plan of attack should be, his thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a passing local.

“Are you lost?” the man asked. “Yes. I’m looking for a restaurant that serves sushi!” Yuichiro told him, and the kind-hearted stranger began to ask people walking past if they knew of anywhere. Eventually, one had an answer for them: “They have sushi at the Melia Habana.”

Melia Habana, as it turns out, is a five-star hotel in Havana city. Looking at the exterior, Yuichiro could feel his expectations rising. Sushi at a top-class hotel couldn’t be terrible, could it? When his friends were describing Cuban sushi in such negative terms, they surely couldn’t have been talking about a place like this!


Yuichiro quickly found the Japanese place he had been looking for was actually Bella Cubana, a pan-Asian restaurant serving Chinese and Thai dishes, Indian curry, and sushi.

▼ It’s like a high-class Wagamama! Maybe…


Our reporter had some reservations about all those national dishes being served in one place, but perhaps that was the best he was going to get. Cuba’s not in Asia, after all!

He was there a little early, so he was able to enter on the dot at 7 p.m. when the doors opened. The decor was definitely “Asian-y”, thought Yuichiro, but he couldn’t help but feel something was odd. For starters, these Chinese characters on the wall. “What are those signs for men and women (男女) doing up there?!” Yuichiro wondered. “This isn’t a toilet! And black and white (黒白)? What, sort of like the Michael Jackson song?!

“And those two on the right, I don’t even know what that’s supposed to be!”

▼ (Actually, we looked it up in a Chinese dictionary, and it looks like 阴阳 is ying and yang…but anyway, Yuichiro thought it was weird.)


But this unusual ambiance wouldn’t matter so long as the food was decent. With that in mind, Yuichiro found “sushi” on the menu. Finally, he had found what he was looking for! Cuban sushi!

To his surprise, there were only four types of sushi neta (nigiri toppings) on the menu: tuna, salmon, octopus, and shrimp.  A plate of two nigiri was CUC$3 (US$3). Oh well, at least that makes ordering easy, thought Yuichiro, as he asked for one of each. “Sorry, we’re out of octopus and shrimp,” the staff told him. “We only have tuna and salmon.”

Yuichiro was pretty perplexed by this – he’d been at the restaurant just as it opened, and they were already out of half the sushi items on the menu? He asked for the salmon and tuna, and looked for something else to add to his paltry order.

“At foreign sushi places, they often have sushi rolls that we’d never see in Japan,” explains our reporter. The name “Geisha Roll” piqued his interest, so he ordered one of those too, at CUC$15, and a side order of miso soup.

20 minutes later…the soup arrived, in this oddly heavy bowl. Yuuichiro was amused by the portion size: “There was enough soup for two!”


He was less amused once he tasted it though. “I could taste miso, sure, but there was no dashi (fish stock) flavour. It just tasted like they added miso and vegetables to hot water.”

▼ No dashi, no life.


Next up was the Geisha Roll! This didn’t look too bad, Yuichiro thought. Inside, he could see shrimp tempura, and salmon.


But the salmon wasn’t the sashimi he’d been expecting – the fish was cooked and flaky! “The combination of salmon flakes and tempura wasn’t terrible,” declared our reporter. “But it wasn’t good either.”


It was the rice that was the real weak point for our reporter, you see. “I think it was Japanese rice,” says Yuichiro. “But it was dry and hadn’t been handled gently enough. The rice itself was fine, but their cooking methods leave something to be desired.”

But looking back on it now, our reporter thinks he was being overly critical of the miso soup and Geisha Roll. What came next was much, much worse…

Yuichiro’s first impression of the nigiri? “That tuna is way too pink. It shouldn’t be that bright!”


The salmon, on the other hand, looked a little old and didn’t smell too fresh. Yuichiro gave it a try – but it made him gag.


Flipping the nigiri over, he found more of that nasty rice from before. The combination of suspect fish and squishy rice was too much for him.


But Yuichiro wasn’t about to throw in the towel just yet. “I won’t give up!” he declared. Taking huge gulps of his drink, he forced the unpleasant sushi down. With some rest breaks and a lot of liquid, he finally managed to clear his plate.

It had taken him an hour to consume three plates of sushi and a bowl of miso soup. We’re not sure why Yuichiro felt such an obligation to clear his plate at all costs, but we can only assume his mother had strict rules about getting down from the table.

In conclusion, our reporter says: “Searching for good sushi in Cuba is like trying to find a good computer in Harajuku. You’re looking in the wrong place. If you go to Cuba, eat some delicious Cuban food instead!

We hate to say it, but it sounds like our adventurous reporter should probably have listened to his friend’s advice in the first place.

Original article by Yuichiro Wasai
Photos: RocketNews24
[ Read in Japanese ]