As Americans, we're accustomed to having, basically, anything we want to eat at any time. Well, one of the first things you'll notice when traveling through Cuba is that it doesn't work like that. I admit it, I'm spoiled beyond belief, but after 20 years of running around that island, at least I know it. It amazes me when I hear people in the U.S. complaining about not being able to find this or that. In Cuba, it's not uncommon to go without this and that.
Thankfully, mainly for the Cuban people, but also for us visiting gringos, things have gradually gotten better down there in the food department. For instance, I would have never thought you could get a pizza and chicken wings delivered in Central Havana, or that you can buy big bags of ice. All of that and more was absolutely unheard of years ago. Someday I'll share the story of me bringing an icemaker to my friend's house. Not surprisingly, I was more excited about it than he.
Anyway, as the years click by, more and more things have become available and the entrepreneurial spirit of the Cuban people is the reason why. I must say, though, when I first saw the Granma newspaper-wrapped items in my friend's freezer, while, undoubtedly foraging for ice cubes in that (unacceptably-sized) bowl of teeny ice cubes, I had no idea what it could be. A typical Cuban refrigerator has almost enough ice for one cocktail, then chunks of plastic-wrapped meat of all shapes and sizes. You don't see Gorton's Fish Sticks, Eggo Waffles or Cherry Garcia ice cream. Every now and then, you'll see homemade popsicle, but that's about it.
What could they be? I had to ask my friend's wife. “Es un sandwich de helado, quieres uno?” Hmm, homemade ice cream sandwiches, eh? Granted, it wasn't a Klondike or a Skinny Cow, but all things considered, it was pretty darned good and I wanted to know more. Fact is, I'll photograph anything, so after a quick call to the creator, (not that one), I headed up the street, crossing over into Old Havana and climbing a five-story walk-up.
I can't remember her name, and she probably thought I was off my rocker, but I excitedly made some photos while asking her about the process. If you think about it, it's not really that involved. You make two skinny cakes, shove some half-frozen ice cream in between and refreeze. Great. But before I left, I had to ask about her setup. I mean, what's the deal with the water glasses and the tray of water? She quickly replied “Ormigas!!” This was a word I'd not yet learned but after a few minutes I got it. Ants. Hmmm, interesting, good call. So after buying an armful of the strawberry-flavored treats, I beat feet back to my friend's house. The whole reason I'm blathering about ice cream sandwiches is, firstly, I'm getting a little lean on content, but more importantly, this whole situation is one of the best examples of my friend's steel bear trap-like humor. I, too, do my best to keep people laughing, but this guy is the guru. His timing and quickness is legendary. Let's see if you agree.
Upon return to his apartment, I excitedly told him about how the lady makes the sandwiches and her ingenious method to keep the ants off the goods. Counting in nanoseconds, he smiled wryly and said “it won't work.” Huh? Why is that? Ants can't swim and she has effectively built a moat around the glasses, thereby stopping the ants in their tracks. “No, it won't work,” he repeated. “You have to remember where you are, these are Cuban ants, they will build a raft in no time and get that cake.”
I'm not sure if that works in writing, or if it's one of those “you had to be there” moments, but either way, it brings me to the close of another column and I'm gonna be there in 46 days ... but who's counting?